| Parshah |

To Capture the Flag

It’s remarkable that despite the fact that the Shevatim were now separating into separate camps, this didn’t cause the discord Moshe feared


“…Each man according to his flag… around the Ohel Moed they should camp.” (Bamidbar 2:2)



he Midrash states: When Hashem told Moshe to make flags, Moshe was worried this would cause machlokes among the Shevatim. Hashem answered that Bnei Yisrael already recognized this formation, as it was identical to the arrangement that Yaakov Avinu instructed his sons to use when they would carry him from Mitzrayim to burial in Mearas Hamachpeilah.
The Midrash adds that this formation mirrors that of the administering angels encamped around the Shechinah. Thus, this formation was a lofty one, intended to ensure that the Shechinah dwelled among Bnei Yisrael as well.
Still, as the Ohr Yahel points out, there’s a fundamental difference between angels and men. Angels feel no hatred or jealousy toward each other, accepting that each has an individual purpose in serving Hashem. Men, however, contend with differences in mannerisms and temperaments, and it’s almost impossible for them to connect this way. So there’s room to wonder why the flags didn’t cause discord among the Shevatim (Rabbi Eli Meyer Smith).

This past month is a time in Israel that should be dubbed Flag Days. Due to the many legal days commemorating Israel’s development and history, many Israelis drive around with flags flying out of every window on their cars, and flags hang from porches and rooftops. Israelis like displaying their flag, and I’ve seen more blue-and-whites here in a year than I saw my whole life growing up with Old Glory.

It’s remarkable that despite the fact that the Shevatim were now separating into separate camps, this didn’t cause the discord Moshe feared. Instead, it actually led to great glory and honor for the nation. The Midrash says that Pharaoh was amazed when he saw the camp formations and how former slaves were acting in such a royal manner.

One year we jumped onto the flag-wagon. I’d been in the States that summer and had seen American flags for sale. In a spirit of v’nahafoch hu, I bought them to decorate our car windows for Purim.

Purim day, the kids were tickled pink (or red, white, and blue) as we drove around the streets of our small town. People who knew us gave us the thumbs-up, laughing at the public display of our status as chutznikim.

But there were others, strangers, some drunk, some sober, whose reactions showed us that patriotism doesn’t have borders when it comes to Jewish nationalism.

Why did Hashem wait until the second year in the Midbar to command the creation of these flags? Shouldn’t the formation have been created at Sinai?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L’Yaakov) explains that the separate camps didn’t lead to disunity because they all had one “center” — the Mishkan — which they all camped around. Each group had their own purpose, but they were united by the Mishkan.
Compare this to to a human body. The ears are created to hear, the eyes to see, etc. They all have their own jobs, but they all work together. So, too, all the Tribes had different purposes, but were all connected at the core.
Therefore, the camp couldn’t be separated until the Mishkan was erected at the beginning of the second year as the spiritual center. The Mishkan was the focus from where emunah and yiras Shamayim flowed. Everyone could feel Hashem’s presence and recognized that He had given each one of them his own talents and temperament for his unique purpose.
With such an epicenter, the flags now displayed a united nation, comprised of separate groups, each using their talents to serve Hashem.

“You from De-Merica?” asked one Israeli guy, halfway to ad delo yada. “I have cousin there. You know Yankel from New York?”

Another guy leaned into our window. “You vote Trump?” he asked, all serious. (This was after Trump had left office.) “He give us Golan.”

Yet a third inebriated guy hopped on our parked car’s hood and began to shout. “I love America! I love Israel! Am Yisrael Chaiiiiiii!”

That clinched it. We can wave our flags all we want, but no matter the countries of origin listed on our passports or birth certificates, Am Yisrael is chai, together in this land, and we can rally around the flag of achdus.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 843)

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