In Parshas Bamidbar, Hashem commands Moshe to count Bnei Yisroel according to
family and shevet. The purpose of this counting is to set Bnei Yisroel up in a
formation around the Mishkan. Every shevet was given a distinctive flag, symbolizing a
unique trait or aspect of that shevet, and a specific place in the formation around the
The time of this counting was "bshana hasheinis ltzeis mieretz
mitzrayim" - In the second year from when Bnai Yisroel left Egypt. Harav Yaakov
Kaminetzky (in his sefer Emes LYaakov) asks - why did Hashem wait a full year from
when they left Egypt to set them up in a formation? Why wasnt it done sooner?
To answer this question we must understand the purpose of the formation and the flags.
Every shevet had a specific position in the formation. The flags each had a distinct color
and emblem. Each one symbolized the essence of the shevet it represented. This was to
symbolize that every shevet was different and had a unique way of serving Hashem. So, in
essence, the flags served to separate and distinguish between the shevatim. But the
Mishkan, which was situated in the center of the formation, served as a unifying factor.
It focused all of the shevatim on a common goal - serving Hashem. Each one used its own
unique characteristics and strengths, and together they created a harmonious symphony.
Until the Mishkan was built, Bnai Yisroel couldnt be set up in the
configuration, since it would only serve to separate between them. Only once the Mishkan
was built, and there was a common spiritual focus, can the different roles of each shevet
can be defined.
Nowadays we also see the diverse paths taken by different Jewish groups. There are
Ashkenazim, Sefaradim, Chassidim and Misnagdim. Within each group there are numerous
factions and subdivisions. Once again, the means are different, but the goal is the same.
When we are all truly striving to get close to Hashem, together we create a harmonious
Though there is a right and a left to the path, and different shortcuts and detours,
there is only one true path. In the words of the Kli Yakar - "Umnum haderech hatov
eino ki im echad" - there is only one true lifestyle: one revolving around the Torah,
our very source of life.
Sources: Emes LYaakov, Kli Yakar
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