RALLY 'ROUND THE FLAG
Rabbi David Walk
Flags are a reality of modern countries. When one walks by the United Nations buildings on
In the parsha we, of course, record the census which gives this book its English name, Numbers. But afterwards the layout of the camp is described. In that description it states: The Israelites are to camp under their respective banners beside the flags of their ancestral houses. They are to camp around the tent of meeting at a distance from it (Numbers 2:2). Then it records that the four sides of the camp are designated by the banners of the dominant tribe on each side. They are Yehuda, Yisaschar, Reuvain, and Ephraim. We would like to know what the twelve tribal flags looked like, and that, like so many other Torah issues, is an argument. Many authorities insist that these were simple standards with only a designated color to identify the tribe and keep the camp and march in order. There is a Midrash which claims that the colors were those seen in the flames over
Anyway the Midrash (Bamidbar Raba, 2:7) records the assumed symbol for each tribe: Reuvain, mandrake plants; Shimon, a tower of Shechem; Yehudah, a lion; Yisaschar, sun and moon; Zevulun; a ship, Dan, a snake; Gad, a tent; Naftali, a deer; Asher, an olive tree; Efraim, an ox; Menashe, a wild ox; and Binyamin, a wolf. The background colors for the banners were the colors of the precious stone which represented each tribe in the breast plate of the Cohen Gadol. But the question is: Why is this important? What can we learn from these banners which we can apply to our own lives?
Reb Kalonymus Kalman Epstein (Maor v'Shemesh, Cracow, 1753-1823) explains that to be strong and successful, the holy people of
Rabbi Kalonymus adds another comment based on a Midrash (Exodus Raba 29:2). At
In a modern comment, Rav Yehdua Amital OB"M former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etziyon also referred to the Midrash about
Secondly Rav Amital suggested that a flag also gives the individual a sense of mission and goal. The flag awakens an enthusiasm for fulfilling one's own goals and gives a sense of purpose within the appropriate niche. This diminishes jealousy and dissatisfaction with one's role and position. Everyone should feel happy and fulfilled performing the task best fitted to their talents and aptitude. We all have something unique to contribute. So, why be interested in another's role?
Rav Amital concludes: The banners teach us two lessons. The first is that in order for a person to thrive one has to feel at home. In order for this to occur, everyone must welcome visitors and foreigners in our midst. The second lesson is that every person must strive to realize and bring to fruition their own special contribution. As Rebbe Nachman used to say: Everyone is great at something. Now put it to use for the common good.