God has ‘positioned’ us with different talents, in different places, with different roles to contribute to a greater whole.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Bamidbar” (Numbers 1:1-4:20) and in it we read how the Jewish people were arranged and organized in the dessert: the various encampments, marching formations, and who had who as neighbors’.
The people were divided into four groups. The Mishkan, the Tabernacle, was in the center of the camp, and each group of three tribes travelled around it. One group on the North, one on the South, one on the East and one on the West. Each group also had their own flag.
The Midrash tells us that when God told Moses to divide the Jews into four groups, Moses was hesitant. He didn’t want the responsibility of dividing up the nation. He was worried that protests and fights would break out should one tribe not want to be positioned beside a certain other tribe. So, too, perhaps the tribes assigned to the north would want to be on the east, and the like.
Why give people a reason to complain?
God told Moses not to worry and that every tribe will happily accept their assigned position and neighbors.
Why? Because they have a tradition going back to the days of Jacob on how to position themselves when travelling.
Get this: They were to position themselves in the same manner that Jacob’s sons — the “founders” of each tribe — positioned themselves when carrying Jacob’s coffin out of Egypt for burial in Hebron. The tribes descending from the three sons who were at the head of Jacob’s coffin travelled on the northern side during the forty years of wandering the dessert, and so on.
The question is asked: Why was Moses so afraid to assign the tribes on his own? Would they really get into schoolyard fights on their assigned positions?
And in any event – why the connection between the desert formation and how Jacob’s coffin was carried?
It is explained that the formation of the tribes when travelling represented how each tribe contributed to the nation as a whole. In order for any organization to be successful there must be a division of talents and a division of labor.
The Jewish people are no different. For us to be successful we need people of all types. We need men, and we need women. We need Kohanim and we need Leviim. We need rabbis and we need teachers. The list can go on and on.
It is explained that Moses’ concern was not about the correct physical placement, but rather, about the correct division-of-roles-and-responsibilities placement.
Each tribe had its own strength. For example, the tribe of Issachar were the Torah scholars, and the tribe of Zebulun were those who worked to support that Torah study. The way each tribe was positioned was related to their contribution to the nation. Moses was worried that the people might not accept their roles and want to exchange them with others.
But God re-assured him that their roles were handed down right from the patriarch Jacob. Every tribe’s role and talent was alluded to in the blessings that Jacob gave his sons before he died. In these blessings, Jacob gave his sons the message of unity, namely, by everyone recognizing where he excels and how he can best contribute to the nation.
And so it is with us today.
God has “positioned” us with different talents, in different places, with different roles. Our goal is to use our talents to help our families and help our communities in the best way we can.
Doing so ensures that the Jewish nation “travels” towards “the Promised Land” in the most efficient and holy way possible!
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