At the start of BaMidbar, this week’s Torah portion, we read of the desert encampment of Israel. There we read:
When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it. ( Numbers 2:2)
I want to think about the need for the “distance” , but first I want to explore the meaning of the banners. According to Rav Hirsch the banner דגל is related to דקל, which is a tree that can be seen all around. Rav Hirsch also explains the phrase תמרות עשן similarly – like a תמר tree (דקל), that can be witnessed in all directions (and from all perspectives). Their banner was their signature stand out trait. They needed to maintain distance so that they could witness and appreciate each others stand out traits.
This seems like a wonderful model for pluralism for our community. We should strive to come together with people who you are different from us and make sure that we give each other space to witness and appreciate our differences. I am still on my yearly Cornerstone Program high where I get to see this encampment first hand. I got to see 250 2nd year Bunk staff from camps all over North America come together to learn how to enrich Jewish life for their fellow staff and campers. In the name of helping their campers this summer we brought together representatives from Zionists camps ( Young Judea, Habonim Dror, HaShomer HaTzair, B’Nai Akiva), Community camps, Ramah camps, URJ camps, Day camps , and Independent camps. But this encampment did not try to have them all become the same, but rather gave them all space to stand up for their own beliefs. There seems to be a sacred space when we can both come together and give each other space to hold our banners high.
– Already looking forward to Cornerstone 2015