Flags and Tribes

This Shabbos we will be continuing reading about the various tribes, their duties, their encampment, flags and donations to the Mishkan.  This division into tribes was also seen earlier at the crossing of the Red Sea, where G-d took the unified waters of the sea and split them into multiple parts to create paths, one for each tribe. I think that one idea behind these divisions it that Hashem demonstrated to everyone in the world the idea that unity does not require uniformity.  Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on the verse, “And you shall become a community of nations, kehal amim” (Bereshis 48:3-4), maintains that this is the purpose of the Jewish people being divided into twelve tribes.

“The nation is to represent agriculture as well as commerce, militarism as well as culture and learning. The Jewish people will be a nation of farmers, a nation of businessman, a nation of soldiers and a nation of science. Thereby, as a model nation, factually to establish the truth that the one great personal and national calling which G-d revealed in His Torah, is not dependent on any particular kind of calling or trait, but that the whole of mankind in all its shades of diversity, can equally find its calling in the one common spiritual and moral mission and outlook in life.”

As the Kotzker Rebbe famously said, “If I am I, because he is he, and he is he, because I am I; then I am not I and he is not he. But if I am I, because I am I and he is he because he is he; then I am truly I and he is truly he.”(Rebbe Menachem Mendel MiKotzk, Dr. Yosef Fox, p. 103)  We were not created to be mere copies of others, but to be authentic expressions of our true selves, our neshamah, soulRav Yosef Nechemiah Kurnitzer, the last Av Beis Din of Cracow, explained, that this idea is hinted at in the second of the Ten Commandments – “Don’t make yourself an image” (Shemos 20:4) – The simple explanation of this verse is the prohibition against creating idols, however, Rav Kurnitzer understands it to mean that one should not make oneself into an image or a copy of another. (Heard from Rabbi Isaac Bernstein Ztzl)

Unity does not mean sameness and respect for others should not require agreement or uniformity. Our ancestor, Jacob assembled all his sons together in order to give each one his distinct blessing, so that each would hear and appreciate the uniqueness of his brothers and respect their different paths and approaches in becoming G-d’s nation and servants. (Emes LeYaakov Bereshis 49:1, Kol Simcha, Parshas Vayechi)  We are indeed like water, one unit, but plural, unique individuals but part of one people.  Every human on the planet is part of a great unity, the “sea of humanity” and each person is enjoined to use his or her special talents and personality to serve G-d. “More than the roars of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, You are mighty beyond all, G-d.”

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