Encampment, BaMidbar, and Building Back Better

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)

The Desert Tabernacle: Collection of the Tabernacle Illustrations | Exodus  bible, Bible knowledge, Bible scriptures

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. This year with Covid and others are immersed in a war- this idea of needing “distance” takes on new meaning. The act of war means that no “distance” is enough to foster civility. In a different way Covid showed us even with civility, we needed our pods and other divisions to stay safe.

As we sit hear and pray for peace in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza and we start to imagine some emergence from Covid restrictions it is helpful to focus on this image of the tribes. Maybe this will provide us a healthy and safe frame for building back better .

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