By: Steve Kirschenbaum
The Parsha begins by telling us that G-d spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu ‘B’Ohel Moed’ as well as that G-d spoke B’Midbar Sinai, which seems to be extraneous; mentioning that it was B’Ohel Moed and B’Midbar Sinai seems to be unnecessary and calls for an explanation.
To answer, Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky in Emes L’Yaakov asks a totally different Kasha. He asks, this Minyan, this counting of Klal Yisrael in Parshas Bamidbar, is the Minyan of the Degalim, the flags or the camps in which Klal Yisrael rested in the Midbar. They traveled in the Midbar as individual Shevatim with individual flags, and this Minyan is the counting of the order of the Degalim, which can be seen from the order of the Shevatim as they are counted.
Asks Rav Yaakov, Klal Yisrael is counted as soon as they left Mitzrayim by HKBH. Why weren’t the earlier episodes of counting done according to the Degalim, according to each Machane? Why wait a full year in the Midbar before counting Klal Yisrael and setting up the Machanos and the Degalim? The question is especially strong because Chazal tell us that already when the twelve Shevatim in Parshas Vayechi took Yaakov to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, they accompanied Yaakov’s Aron according to the order of the Degalim. So, this order was already known. Again, why wait a full year?
Answers Rav Yaakov beautifully. Klal Yisrael has to be K’ish Echad Ub’leiv Echad. Klal Yisrael needs Achdus to accomplish an added dimension of Kirvah with HKBH. When you have factions within Klal Yisrael with each group serving G-d in their own unique way, those attributes automatically create a Pirud, a separation or distinction within Klal Yisrael.
It’s a potentially polarizing notion because, on the one hand, individuality and autonomy are crucial to a person while at the same time it is important for each individual to feel part of Klal Yisrael, part of something greater than just oneself.
Says Rav Yaakov, therefore, the division of Degalim did not take place until there was a Mishkan. The Mishkan, and the Beis HaMikdash later in Eretz Yisrael, was the great unifier. It was the vehicle that brought Klal Yisrael together. The twelve Machanos of the twelve Shevatim encamped around the Mishkan and the Mishkan endowed every Machane with a sense of Achdus, a sense of togetherness.
At this point, it was appropriate for each to have its own Degel, once they had this great unifier of the Mishkan.
Similarly, when Klal Yisrael splits between the ten Shevatim and the two, Yeravam doesn’t want those people from the ten Shevatim to go up to the Beis HaMikdash. He stops them because he realized that the Beis HaMikdash unifies Klal Yisrael, as the Torah unified Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai. Says Rav Yaakov, that is why it is only here, after a year, that the counting to the Degalim takes place.
Furthermore, the Sefarim teach that when Moshe counted Klal Yisrael, he was doing much more than merely a census; he was infusing each and every Jew with the ability to connect to who they really are. Every Neshama has its own unique counterpart in Shamayim. In doing so, the Torah uses the wording that literally means to lift up – ‘Se’u’ — to describe the counting because Moshe was actually lifting each and every Jew up to connect to his other half above. This explains why those within Klal Yisrael who went out to war against the other nations were the ones counted as well. Specifically, those Jews who were going out to fight against the nations needed uplifting in recognizing the depth of who they really are. Moshe had to lift up these Jews to make them realize how high and lofty they really are before they went out into battle with the other nations of the world. He would uplift these Jews to make them realize how high and lofty they really are. Once each Jew attains this realization and understands the value of every Jew, then we can be K’ish Echad Ub’leiv Echad.
This recognition is fundamental in our preparation for Kabbalas HaTorah. Like by the Mishkan, Chazal teaches us that when Klal Yisrael was getting ready to receive the Torah by Har Sinai, they were also K’ish Echad B’lev Echad. The only way for us to all be fully connected with such unity is when we realize our true selves, that our physical existence is only a part of what our true essence really is. When we allow ourselves to be ‘raised up to see each other and ourselves for what we really are, we no longer see any separation or distinction amongst ourselves. For this reason, Parshas Bamidbar is read directly before Shavuos, the holiday of our receiving the Torah.
So, why does it mention B’Ohel Moed at the beginning of the counting? Because VayiDaber HaShem El Moshe B’Midbar Sinai is only B’Ohel Moed, only when there was an Ohel Moed. Once there was a Mishkan, when we’re K’ish Echad B’lev Echad and we realize how special each and every Jew is, then we can count Klal Yisrael according to the Degalim and have this great unifier K’ish Echad Ub’leiv Echad.