MULTIPLICATION THROUGH DIVISION?
Rabbi Reuven Stein
"The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignias of their father's household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp" (Numbers 2:2).
The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignias of their father's household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp" (Numbers 2:2).
In this week's portion the Torah records the divisions of the Jewish people by tribe, each one under a separate banner. It is interesting to note that, as the Torah mentions at the beginning of the portion, these events took place in the second year after the exodus from Egypt. Why did Hashem wait until the second year to divide the tribes under separate banners? If this was the optimal way of traveling and assembling, the division could have easily been made earlier. What is the significance of the division taking place in the Jewish people's second year in the desert?
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, a great Torah scholar and leader of the past generation, explains that separate groups normally are a cause of divisiveness and strife. Numerous factions will lead to differing opinions, as each group struggles to accomplish their individual objectives. Without a central focal point, the tribes could have potentially broken into competing factions and fought amongst each other. However, just before Passover in the second year in the desert, the mishkan (Tabernacle) was completed and put into operation. Service of Hashem in the mishkan was the rallying point around which the entire nation could focus its attention. When different groups have a central focal point, their differences serve to enhance the group as a whole. The human body has eyes that see and ears that hear - are they jealous of one another? The fact that they serve one central body allows their differences to complement each other and make it possible to grow.
When Jews are united around the Torah and the service of Hashem, then our differences complement each other and help us reach our goal. The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly Torah scholar and leader at the turn of this century, asked why we find so many different kinds of Jews with different strengths, some who excel in constant Torah study, some in doing acts of loving kindness, some in prayer. He explained that to function effectively in battle, an army needs to have many different kinds of soldiers, infantry, cavalry, scouts, and medics. These different tasks are all necessary. If all soldiers did the same task they would not be effective in battle. It is only as a team of different forces rallying around a common banner, that they can defeat the enemy in battle - as long as they are working together towards a common goal. If we all work together to serve Hashem, then our individual unique strengths can help us unite in our common service of Hashem.
Rabbi Reuven Stein is the director of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission.
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