SALT - Yom Yerushalayim - Wednesday, 28 Iyar 5777 - May 24, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Bamidbar of God’s commands concerning Benei Yisrael’s arrangement as they journeyed and encamped in the wilderness.  The commands are very specific, requiring the nation to divide into four groups of three tribes each, with each group positioned at a particular location around the Mishkan during encampment, and journeying in a particular sequence during travel.  The Torah concludes this section by telling, “The Israelites did in accordance with everything the Lord commanded Moshe – so did they encamp by their banners and so did they journey…” (2:34).

            The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 2:20) observes that the phrase “ke-khol asher tziva Hashem et Moshe” (“in accordance with all that the Lord commanded Moshe”) hearkens back to the account at the end of Sefer Shemot (39:42) of the Mishkan’s construction.  There, too, the Torah tells that Benei Yisrael did “ke-khol asher tziva Hashem et Moshe.”  This parallel prompts the Midrash to comment, “The banners are beloved before the Almighty, for it says regarding them, ‘as the Lord commanded Moshe,’ just as is written in regard to the construction of the Mishkan.”  The parallel formulation indicates that the arrangement of the Israelite camp according to banners is as precious to God as the construction of the Mishkan.

            The Midrash here teaches us that our compliance with God’s laws outside the Mishkan, in the “camp,” as we go about our daily lives, is as significant and valuable as our service to Him inside the “Mishkan,” when we are involved in matters of sanctity.  God cherishes our prayers and study, our devotion to the “Mishkan” in its various forms, where we encounter and experience kedusha directly, but He cherishes no less the way we conduct our ordinary, mundane affairs in the “camp,” outside the “Mishkan,” when we live in accordance with the laws, principles and values of the Torah.  Benei Yisrael’s compliance with the laws concerning the Mishkan and their compliance with the laws concerning the banners are described with the same formulation because they are both beloved by God, who wants us to serve Him devotedly both inside the Mishkan, through direct involvement in sacred matters, and also outside the Mishkan, by applying the Torah to our mundane affairs.