In his introduction to Chumash Bamidbar, Ramban speaks of the ways in which the encampment around the mishkan recreated Klal Yisrael’s encircling Har Sinai at the time of Matan Torah. In both places, measures were taken to prevent people from approaching closer than they were allowed. In both locations, people were warned against attempting to see more than was appropriate – at Sinai, trying to peer at Hashem Himself; at the mishkan, beholding the holy utensils. Ramban then adds that these restrictions add significance and honor to the mishkan. He likens these measures to the difference between an unguarded royal palace, to one that is surrounded by guards. In our parshah, Ramban emphasizes that these practices were not limited to the mishkan of the Wilderness, but applied in the beis ha-mikdosh as well; they are the basis for the allocation of tasks to the different mishmaros. The kohanim guard within; the leviim without. Collectively, they act as they would in guarding the life of a mortal king.
The degalim as well serve this purpose. They are the legions of soldiers who honor and guard the King, as it were. In the mishkan and mikdosh, they protect the interests of the King. On one level, they keep out those who do not belong. On a deeper level, they protect the essence of the mikdosh – its special kedushah. Thus, the defensive positions around the mishkan consist of having kingship, Torah, and wealth stationed on one side; teshuvah and strength on another; Shechinah on a different flank; light and dark at the rear. Together, the assembled troops protect the “life” of the King.
A practice in the Volozhin Yeshiva, initiated by Rav Chaim Volozhin himself, channeled this thinking. Volozhin had its own mishmaros – a rotation of students who would study through the night, ensuring that there would be Torah study at all times, without any exceptions. Rav Chaim understood that today, the yeshiva is the “palace of the King,” and its greater glory was in maintaining its royal guard, 24/7.
After all is said, we are all part of the royal guard. That is what Klal Yisrael is all about: protecting the life of the King! It is a privilege to be part of Hashem’s royal guard. This role is not limited to the beis ha-mikdosh. Everyone who agrees to take a position of service or protection of a group of Jews willingly becomes a member of the royal guard. We are all here for this purpose – to protect the life of the King!