In this week’s Parsha, Bamidbar, we read about the way the Israelites camped in the desert. There is great length taken to separate each tribe. I recall in Israel, someone who unfortunately wasn’t fully compus mentus trying to memorise where they camped. He was in a large room, and positioned himself in the correct place for each of the tribes, running from one side of the room to the other. In frustration as to how complicated he found it, he said, “why do they need to camp each tribe separately, why can’t they all join together like one happy family and save me the trouble of memorising this all!” That got me thinking. Why DID they have to camp separately? Why couldn’t they all camp together?
The answer, I believe, is as follows. On a chess board, each piece has a different starting place. Each piece moves differently. Each piece has a different value. If one could place any piece anywhere on the board to start the game, it would be no good as a game. If any piece could move as and where you want, there would be no strategy to the game. If all pieces had the same value, a game-plan would not be possible. The whole game is based around the fact that there are different parts to each side. These parts need to work together, each in their own specified way, in order to create the great game of the mind that chess is.
Similarly, we are taught through the encampment of the Israelites in the desert, each and every Jew, each and every person, is on this world for a different reason. In Judaism, unity is embraced, not uniformity. We are not all expected to be clones. In fact, we are all expected to be different, yet at the same time working for one cause. If there’s a lesson to be taken from the complicated encampment of the Israelites in the desert, this is it. Know that you are unique as a human being. Know that you are in this world for a purpose. Know that you, and you alone can fulfil that purpose.
It is no coincidence that Bamidbar is always the Shabbat before Shavuot (in the diaspora). We are taught that the Israelites received the Torah due to the unity they displayed at Sinai. The Torah describes their coming to Sinai as ‘He camped there’, in the plural. The Talmud explains that every single Israelite, men women and children, all camped there with the same end-goal, to receive the Torah. As such, they attained a unity that had never been attained before. They are described as one person, with one heart and body. In the body, there are many different parts. Each part functions in a very different way. The body cannot function correctly without all these parts. Each part is made from DNA strings, and the same raw material, yet they turn out so very different, each performing a very different part in the united product of a human being. We are the DNA. We may look, sound and seem identical, yet we are not. We need to work together, with all other Jews and people in this world, to create the united product, which we can only attain by each of us attaining our personal purpose within the greater goal of spreading light around the world.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!