Where are you from?
PLEASE NOTE: Because of the timing of the end of Pesach, Bamidbar is the Parasha this week in Israel and next week in the Diaspora.
When I’m asked, “Where are you from?” where do I begin? Do I say I’m from Jerusalem? Or from New Zealand (I left NZ over 30 years ago). Or do I go back to Hungary where my father and grandparents came from? Or back 2,00 years to when we all lived in Israel? Or perhaps another few centuries earlier and say I’m descended from Aharon the priest, and my family escaped from Egypt and spent 40 years in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
“Where are you from” is a question that is particularly appropriate for those who participate in WebYeshiva classes. Students join from all points of the compass. The WebYeshiva family is literally from everywhere.
Encamped around the Tabernacle
Parshat Bamidbar opens a new book of the Chumash, which describes 39 of the years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. The parsha begins with a census of all the tribes, and then goes on to describe the location of each tribe in their encampment around the Tabernacle, the Mishkan.
On their journey through the Sinai, from Egypt to Israel, the tribes basically headed east. So, Moshe, Aharon and the Cohanim were located directly to the east of the Mishkan. On the other three sides of the Tabernacle in close proximity were the three families of Levites. Further out, leading the way to the east, was the tribe of the future king – Yehuda, accompanied by Yissachar and Zevulun. To the south were Reuven, Shimon and Gad; on the west were the children of Rachel –Ephraim, Menashe, and Binyamin; and traveling to the north were Dan, Asher and Naphtali – three of the four tribes descended from Yaakov’s concubines.
Influence of neighbors
The Midrash (Tanchuma, Bamidbar 12) states that the tribes were influenced by their neighbors encamped nearby. For example, Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulun who encamped next to Moshe and Aharon, all became renowned for their Torah learning. In contrast, the tribe of Reuven became embroiled in the fatal dispute between Korach and Moshe because their tents were adjacent to each other. Rambam writes (Hilchot De’ot 6:1) that it is natural for a person to be influenced by his surroundings and his neighbors. And he warns that it would be better to live in a cave, far from civilization, rather than in a city of evildoers.
Each tribe’s location around the Mishkan also gave them a different perspective on their relationship with God. Some looked out their tent doors and saw the entrance to the Tabernacle, others saw only the sides and walls. Each tribe had a different view, both literally and metaphorically, of how they perceived the relationship between humanity and the Divine.
This is still true today. Each of us comes from a different perspective, a different location, living in a different city with different neighbors, which leads us to a unique view of Judaism and our relationship with God. Sometimes it is difficult to even imagine how others see things. Yet we are all looking for a relationship with God and we all find it from our own vantage point.
We each bring our unique perspective to the discussion, and WebYeshiva provides the perfect forum to share these individual views and ideas. And it is the sum total of all these views, from all sides of the Tabernacle, that makes up the entirety of the Jewish people, the Divine Camp that accompanies the Mishkan.
Remember all this next time someone asks you where you are from.
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