Rallying Round The Flag
In the beginning of Parshas Bamidbar [2:2], the pasuk [verse] says, “The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his flag (banner) according to the insignias of their fathers’ household…” In addition to the census that begins the Book of Bamidbar, the Torah describes the method and order by which the Children of Israel traveled in the Wilderness. The 12 Tribes were divided into four camps. Each camp had its own flag. Today there are some who might think that the idea of a flag is a Gentile concept. However, we see that on the contrary, this idea has roots in the Torah. Each tribe had its own flag and each of the four camps had its own flag.
The Medrash in Bamidbar Rabbah states that the Almighty demonstrated great love for the nation of Israel by making them flags like those of the ministering angels, so that they might be easily recognizable. “And from where do we know,” the Medrash continues, “that this was such a great demonstration of love for the Jewish people?” The Medrash cites the pasuk in Shir HaShirim [2:4]: “He brought me to the chamber of Torah delights and clustered my encampments about Him in love.” (Heviani l’beis hayayin v’Diglo alai ahavah).
The Medrash further states that when G-d revealed Himself on Mt. Sinai, there were 22 myriads of angels with him and all of the angels had flags (as is written — “Dagul m’revava” [Shir HaShirim 5:10]). When the Jews saw that the angels had flags, they too had a strong desire for flags. They said “If only we too could have flags like the angels.” G-d then swore to them that the time would come when they too would have flags. That time came in Parshas Bamidbar, when the tribes and encampments were each assigned flags (degalim).
A flag is a very physical item. Angels are entirely spiritual. Why would angels need flags? Furthermore, what was the strong desire that the Jews had for flags? The Nesivos Shalom writes that flags demonstrate the mission (tachlis) of every single group. This is true. We are not neccisarily very conscious of the military, but think about it: The army has its own flag, the navy has its own flag, the air force has its own flag. Every branch of the service has its own flag. Every flag somehow identifies what the unit or group is all about.
When Chazal say the angels came down with flags, it is a way of saying that every angel has its own mission and purpose of existence. The flag demonstrates what the angel is all about. This also explains the tremendous passion that Klal Yisrael had for flags. When the Jews saw the flags that proclaimed that every angel had a mission and purpose they proclaimed “Halevai (if only) we too would have such flags!”
Is there anything greater that a person wants out of life other than to know what his ‘tafkid’ (mission) is and what his purpose is and what he should do with his life? They strongly desired something which would testify to the fact that each of them had a defined purpose, as was the case with the angels. The Almighty responded “Yes. Every tribe will have its flag. Every camp will have its flag. “Even though physically, every Jew does not walk around with his own personal flag, he does have his ‘tafkid’ (mission). He has his purpose (tachlis). That is what the flags are all about.
This is perhaps why Parshas Bamidbar always precedes Shavuos. The Halacha teaches: “Manu V’atzru” – Count then observe the Holiday of Atzeres. First experience Parshas Bamidbar and then experience Shavuos. One of the conditions of receiving the Torah was that “Israel encamped (singular verb) opposite the mountain.” When the Almighty saw that Israel rejected disputes and loved one another, He concluded that the time had arrived to give them the Torah. Unity amongst Klal Yisrael is a prerequisite for Kabalas haTorah. There can not be competition and jealousy. There can not be “I want this guy’s job. I want this thing. I want that thing. “People will not be jealous of one another if they know they are fulfilling their purpose in life. In order for that to be true, they must know why they are here and what purpose they are fulfilling. Only when there is confusion of personal mission does dispute enter into the picture.
Therefore, first count, then celebrate Atzeres. When we learn the lesson of the flags — that every angel has his purpose and every Jew has his purpose (every Jew counts) — then we can arrive at Kabbalas HaTorah (receiving the Torah).
The Message of the Book of Ruth
I found the following idea in Rabbi Mirsky’s sefer on the Jewish holidays:
On Shavuos, we read the book of Rus [Ruth], written by the prophet Shmuel. Rus is one of the 24 books of the Bible. It is a beautiful story. But what is so vital about this narrative that it must be part of Tanach? Furthermore, why do we specifically read it on the holiday of Shavuos?
Rav Shlomo Alkabez, in his commentary to Rus, writes “This megillah was written to authenticate King David and to publicize the concept that a Moabite woman may marry a Jew. Shmuel wrote this book to preempt any murmuring that might threaten the monarchy of the anointed king (David).”
There was indeed controversy as to whether Boaz was permitted to marry Rus. Rus was from Moab. The simple reading of “Neither an Ammonite nor a Moabite shall enter the Congregation of the L-rd” [Devorim 23:4] would seem to preclude her ability to marry Boaz or any other native born Jew for that matter. There was a dispute that raged for generations whether the prohibition included female Moabites or just the males. Boaz made a bold move to demonstrate the permissibility of such a union, even though the closer relative (a man named Tov) refused to enter into such a marriage out of fear that it was prohibited.
Shmuel, the prophet who anointed David as King, decided to set the record straight and recorded Boaz’s public decision to marry this woman — in Tanach. This explains, perhaps, why Rus is read on Shavuos. The story of Boaz’s bold decision to marry Rus dramatizes his faith in the veracity of the Oral Tradition. Boaz had faith in the “Halacha of Moshe tracing back to Sinai” that the interpretation of the above cited pasuk in Devorim is “An Ammonite male is forbidden, but not an Ammonite female; a Moabite male is forbidden, but not a Moabite female. ”
When a Jew sits down on Shavuos, the holiday marking receipt of the Torah, he is confronted with the question of why Boaz did marry Rus. Why was he so confident that he was allowed to marry her? The answer is that he knew it was permissible because of the Oral Law. Shavuos is not merely the holiday celebrating receipt of the Written Torah. As indicated by the story of Rus, Shavuos is also the holiday when we celebrate the receipt of and the veracity of the Oral Torah.
The issue of the veracity of the Oral Torah was an issue in Talmudic times and it is an issue in modern times as well. When we tell people “the Torah says such and such,” they question us because they cannot find it in the Written Torah. So much of the divisions that we have with our non-observant brethren boil down to this point: Is there an Oral Law or not?
On Shavuos, we come to this clear understanding that Torah means the Written Torah PLUS the Oral Torah. There is no better narrative than the Megillah of Rus to drive home this lesson.
The Vilna Gaon reads this whole idea into a few pasukim in Tehillim [119:161-162]: King David writes: “Princes have pursued me without cause, but my heart has feared Your word (m’devarcha pachad leebi). I rejoice over Your Word, (sos anochi al imrasecha) like one who finds abundant spoils.” The meaning of M’devarcha pachad leebi is I was afraid of the words of Your Torah, which seems to imply that even a Moabite woman may not marry into the Jewish people. But sos anochi al imrasecha — I rejoiced over your Oral Teaching, which taught to the contrary, that the prohibition was limited only to the Moabite males.
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah Portion. The complete list of halachic portions for this parsha from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:
Tape # 013 – Yerushalayim in Halacha
Tape # 058 – Yom Tov in Yerushalayim
Tape # 101 – Teaching Torah to Women
Tape # 147 – Sefiras HaOmer, Shavuos & the International Dateline
Tape # 194 – Can One Charge for Teaching Torah
Tape # 240 – An Early Start for Shavuos?
Tape # 284 – Birchas HaTorah
Tape # 330 – Sefer Rus and Its Halachic Implications
Tape # 374 – Bathing on Shabbos and Yom Tov
Tape # 418 – Shavuos Issues — Late Ma’ariv / Learning All Night
Tape # 462 – May A Child Carry A Sefer on Shabbos
Tape # 506 – Shavuos: Two Days, She’cheyanu, & Other Issues
Tape # 550 – Opening Cans On Shabbos and Yom Tov
Tape # 594 – Omer Davar B’Sheim Omro – Giving Proper Credit
Tape # 638 – Eruv and the Big City
Tape # 682 – Carrying on Yom Tov
Tape # 726 – Returning Pidyon Haben Money
Tape # 770 – Let Them Eat Cheesecake
Tape # 814 – Oy, The Eruv is Down, Now What?
Tape # 858 – Ms. Cohen for a Pidyon Habein?
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.
RavFrand, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Torah.org.