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Love in a Flag

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Parshat Bamidbar describes the formation in which the Jewish people were commanded to travel and dwell in their desert sojourns. The tabernacle was placed in the center and four camps were formed around the tabernacle. Each camp had its own flag and each tribe within a particular camp also had its own unique flag.

The Midrash (Midrash Rabba, Bamidbar 2) explains that when God revealed Himself at the time of the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people saw two hundred twenty thousand angels, each with its own unique flag. The Jewish people immediately longed for unique flags. The Midrash states that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, showed tremendous love for the people by giving them flags (like the angels) to make them distinctly recognizable. These teachings from the Midrash require much explanation. What did the people see in the angels’ flags that was so appealing to them? In what way did God express love for the Jewish people through commanding them to travel in specific formations and by giving them flags?

Every human being has a need for meaning and feels good when he/she is appreciated for his/her unique contribution. At the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people witnessed that each angel was unique and had a specific purpose (meaning) and role to play in the service of God. This is the meaning of the distinct flags which the Jewish people saw in each angel’s hand on Mt. Sinai. By giving each person, tribe, and tribe grouping a specific dwelling place around the tabernacle and distinct flags, each person understood that he/she was unique and had a specific role to play in the tapestry of the nation and service of God.

God filled the people with a feeling of uniqueness and meaning. This is, indeed, a tremendous expression of love. We love people and show our love to them by recognizing their uniqueness and honoring them for their unique life purpose and contribution. Let us be more aware and appreciative of the uniqueness of those who surround us and of their unique contribution to mankind.