Weekly Torah portion: Bamidbar

What plus Why Is Unstoppable!

By Rabbi Yaakov Marks

Rabbi Yaakov Marks

SAN DIEGO — “And G-d spoke to Moshe and Aaron, saying: Each man under his flag with the signs according to the house of their fathers they will camp, at a distance and around the Tabernacle they will camp.” (Numbers 2:1-2) The Midrash Rabbah (Numbers 2:7) is concerned that the phrase “… according to their father’s house” is redundant. It had already stated, “under his flag” therefore each person knew where to gather – why the repetition?

To answer this, the Midrash presents a conversation between G-d and Moshe. When G-d told Moshe to set up the positions of the encampment and tell each tribe where their positions around the Tabernacle would be, Moshe became very worried that the tribes would start arguing with him and with each other. If he gave one tribe a position in front and another in the back, they would be upset, demanding a different position.

Moshe had a valid claim as we see from Korach. Korach was one of the most learned men, had the privilege to be a Levite, was very well-respected, extremely wealthy, and held a high-ranking position in his family. Even with all of these gifts, when Moshe appointed Aharon and Elizaphan to a position which he coveted, he became upset, argued with Moshe, and initiated a major rebellion which ended with the death of himself and many people.

G-d told Moshe not to worry about the positions of the tribes, explaining that even without telling them of their placements, they already knew their positions. They have a will in their hands given to them directly from their patriarch, Yaakov. When Yaakov was dying, he wrote a will and in it were the positions his sons were to take when they carried his casket from Egypt to Israel for burial. They knew that these were the positions that the descendants of Yaakov’s sons were to take. The people had already prepared themselves and there would be no problem setting up the camp.

G-d taught Moshe that if a person prepares himself for the bumps of life, he will not be distracted. He will be able to brush himself off and continue without losing his cool.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky is bothered with this answer. If knowing from Yaakov’s will which position each tribe was to take would prevent any arguments, why then did G-d wait until the Tabernacle was constructed before ordering the positioning of the tribes? Why didn’t G-d position the tribes at Mount Sinai?

Kamenetsky (Ateres Hamikrah Numbers 2:2) answers with a fundamental lesson of life. A person is guided by several forces that sometimes conflict. He is motivated to fulfill his physical pleasures and instinct to be safe, and he is also motivated by his intellect to do what is morally correct even if that act infringes upon his pleasure and safety. In a situation where a person finds himself in a crisis, the desire to get pleasure and stay safe is much stronger than the desire to behave morally. Reb Yaakov is telling us that even if a person knows the right thing to do if he doesn’t have the reason why he should do it, when things become difficult he will fail.

The tribes knew exactly what position they were to take in the camp, but until they had the Tabernacle set up in the middle and they were properly placed around it, they could have gotten into arguments. Now that they were told that they were to surround the tabernacle, that the tabernacle would be the central focus of all the tribes and all the tribes would be the same distance from the Tabernacle, they understood what to do and why they are doing it. There would be no arguments. When we clearly know what to do and why we need to do it, our intellect becomes the stronger and more powerful force. Even though we might be uncomfortable and feel a little unsafe or insecure, we will do the right thing.

I have seen many times people returning from visiting a friend’s house for a meal in a bad mood. “I can’t believe I ate that!”, “Why did I eat so much! Now I feel sick.”, or… “I am so angry with him. He made me ruin my healthy program!” And the complaints go on and on. When a host invites a friend for a meal, of course, that means he expects him to eat. Many hosts want to do the “right” thing by giving every guest as much food as they can eat. Many guests don’t want to embarrass the host, so they overeat. The guests go away unhappy and the host didn’t do the guests any favors. It turns out a lose, lose situation.

If the guest prepares for possible problems and knows why he wants to act that way, he will be successful. When the host invites the guest, the guest should explain himself. He can tell the host that he is on a health journey and right now he only wants to eat certain foods and certain portions. He can also express his appreciation for the invitation, explaining that, for him or her, the host’s company is what matters most. Food is simply secondary. Now he is prepared. Even if the host starts to push food on him, he knows what he wants to eat. What he chooses to eat is his responsibility, and the host should respect him for it. Even if the situation feels a little uncomfortable, the guest should politely explain to the host that he doesn’t want to eat certain foods. A proper host will understand and respect his decision. Now it is a win-win situation. The guest leaves happy and proud of himself and the host gets a Mitzvah of properly entertaining a guest. Just as a proper host asks a guest prior to preparing the meal if there are any foods he or she cannot eat, so, too, it is the responsibility of the guest to honestly and openly explain what foods he wants to avoid.

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Rabbi Marks is a certified health coach.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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