TORAH FOR THE NATIONS
The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people
Bamidbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20
The Beauty of Diversity
The book of Numbers - fourth of the Five Books of Moses - opens with the people of Israel still encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai after receiving the Torah, but now poised to leave on their journey to their promised homeland where their mission would be to practice what they had been taught. For: "The main thing is not study but practical action" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:17).
Prior to the people's departure from Sinai, Moses was instructed to take a census of the Twelve Tribes and assign them to their positions both when encamped and when marching, and to assign to the various families of the Levites their respective duties relating the Sanctuary, which was to be the central focus of the nation's life.
The figures of Moses' count recorded in our portion give the book of Numbers its traditional English name. For many Bible students the significance of the many details contained in this "national archive" of the people of Israel may be obscure. Yet it is noteworthy that the positions of the various tribes and families around the Sanctuary were by no means random.
"And God spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: 'The children of Israel shall encamp each man by his flag according to the emblems of their paternal houses; they shall encamp at a distance facing the Tent of Meeting '" (Numbers 2:1-2).
Each of the tribes had their own ensign relating to the unique attributes of that tribe. For example, the sign of Judah, the royal tribe, was the lion, king of the beasts; that of Zebulun, a tribe of merchants, was a ship, while that of Issachar, famed for their astronomical knowledge, was the sun and the moon. The assigned positions of each tribe in groups to the east, south, north or west of the sanctuary were also bound up with their distinctive character traits, for in Torah teaching the directions of the compass all have their own special connotations. East, where the sun rises, signifies blessing, west signifies receiving, while south and north respectively signify kindness and strength.
The Torah here teaches us that we are not all required to try to be the same as one another, because each one of us is God's unique creation, each with his or her own distinctive gifts and attributes.
"The greatness of the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One blessed be He, is seen in the fact that while a man may make many coins with one mould, all identical with one another, the Holy One blessed be He stamps every human in the mould of the archetypal Adam, yet not a single one is identical with any other" (Sanhedrin 38a).
What we must do is to learn how to dwell with one another together in harmony despite the many differences between us all. This can be done when everyone knows that they have their own special place, mission and function as part of God's greater purpose, signified by the Sanctuary itself, which everyone had to face from a respectful distance.
Throughout history diversity has been and continues until this very day to be a source of conflict within and between families, social groups, nations and races, each attempting to dominate others and coerce them to their will and viewpoint. Too often people find it easier to continue old patterns of aggression and warfare instead of striving to make peace, which can only be done when we accept that within the transcendent unity of God there is room for different outlooks, viewpoints and ways of life, and that they can coexist peaceably as long as we agree on certain common denominators - above all, the prohibition of violence and murder, robbery and injustice, which are among the main pillars of the Universal Noahide Code of Law. If we will all look towards God's "Sanctuary" - the Noahide Code, which contains the blueprint for universal peace - we will be able to live side by side with each other, all fulfilling their own unique mission in God's greater plan.
Israel does not call upon all the peoples of the world to give up their own identity, individuality and traditions in order to convert to Judaism. Rather, they invite all nations to pursue their own unique missions and interests within the boundaries of what is permitted under the Noahide Code, while eschewing aggression, wanton violence and killing, exploitation and other prohibited behaviors.
Through increasing knowledge and awareness of God - Who transcends all opposites and contradictions - it will eventually be possible for all the different types and kinds of people to coexist peacefully, as in Isaiah's prophetic allegory:
"And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of HaShem, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:6).
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