Every individual has a “flag” representing his or her unique mission, purpose, or talent. What does your flag look like?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), begins the Jews’ 40-year saga wandering the desert.
In the second chapter of the reading, the 12 tribes were all told where they would be positioned during the 40 years of the wandering. They always kept the same formation with the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, placed in the center. In addition to the Jewish people’s traveling formation, each wanted its own flag. They demanded it in fact.
Flags? Yes, flags.
Where did the Jewish people get the desire for flags? Why were they so important to them?
The Midrash (rabbinic literature) teaches that at the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments, not only were the Jewish people encamped at the mountain, but even the angels came down from heaven to be part of the experience. The angels didn’t come down empty-handed, however, they came down with flags. Every angel had its own flag.
We are told that when the Jewish people saw the angels and their flags, they became jealous. They wanted flags too. God told them, “Okay, I will give you flags.” In this week’s Torah portion, God fulfills His promise.
Angels? With physical flags? And the Jewish people were jealous about THIS? What’s going on over here?
Of course the angels didn’t come down to Sinai with physical flags. Angels are spiritual beings! The sages are teaching us that the “flags” that the angels had were actually “flags of identity.”
Flags symbolize a mission, an idea, talents, beliefs, and goals. Every unit of the army has its own flag to represent its mission. Many companies have flags to represent their business goals. Countries have flags to represent their beliefs and values.
When the Jewish people saw that the angles all have “flags”, meaning, that every angel had its own unique sense of mission and identity, the Jewish people said that they too wanted “flags”-–that they too wanted a sense of mission and purpose.
And so it was. Each tribe developed its own distinct identity: one tribe excelled as scholars, one as merchants, and another in farming, and so on. Every tribe was able to contribute its talents for the success of the entire Jewish people. Every tribe had a flag and lived that flag.
And so it is with us, with every individual. We have to have our own flags too! What’s your talent? What’s your mission? Where do you excel? How can you best help others, and by extension, the world around you? When you have your own flag, when you know your mission and purpose in life, you are going to be happier and feel fulfilled. You really will feel like an angel!
For more insights on the week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:
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