So they encamped . . . so they journeyed
We gathered in Encino to continue our study of the tribes, their symbols, flags, positions of encampment. Check-ins reflected the moment we find ourselves in history – sitting on the cusp of an historic election, having experienced the recent vulnerability of our own societal structures in the face of nature, and new commitments and directions arising in the lives of group members. Time to get tribal.
The Book of Numbers (in Hebrew, Ba Midbar – “in the wilderness”) Chapter 1:
This fourth book of the Torah begins with the second census of the Children of Israel, all able-bodied men above the age of 20. Whereas the first census had been of the entire people without division, this census was done “according to your families”, and thus emphasizes the tribal divisions within the people as a whole. It introduces the formations of the tribes as they travelled, and as they encamped. In giving the census of each of the tribal formations oriented to the 4 directions, the gematria (Hebrew numerology) of each of the 4 groups of 3 tribes each is interesting:
· East: 186,400 = 1+8+6+4+0+0 = 19 = 1+9 = 10 = 1+0 = 1
· South: 151, 450 = 1+5+1+4+5 = 16 = 1+6 = 7
· West: 108,100 = 1+8+1 = 10 = 1+0 = 1
· North: 157,600 = 1+5+7+6 = 19 = 1+9 = 10 = 1+0 = 1
· Total: 603,550 = 6+3+5+5 = 19 = 1+9 = 10 = 1
So we learn that to each direction, the multitude of diversity contained within each of the tribal groupings in each direction equaled one, echad, unity, as did the totality of all the people. Unity in Diversity. Shema Yisrael, the multiple Infinite diversity that we call YHVH Elohim, is really Echad, Unity. But wait – the South tribal count equaled 7, not one. But in Hebrew cosmology, the number 7 is known to signify the wholeness of a single cycle – e.g. 7 days of creation, 7 days of the week, etc. One cycle. So in this way, 7 also equals one, and this drash is intact (though some of you may feel that turning a 7 into a 1 is the equivalent of squeezing a size 12 foot into a size 10 shoe). But such is the world of gematria.
BaMidbar 2:3: “Those who encamp at the front, at the East, shall be the banner of the camp of Judah . . .”
Each of the next 4 paragraphs recites in a rather rote manner each grouping of 3 tribes that were oriented to each of the 4 directions. To the East, the lead tribe was Judah, and Issaschar and Zevulun (the conjoined twins of the tribes) camped with Judah to the east. This camp was also the first to journey when the Cloud of Glory would lift from the Tabernacle indicating it was time to move camp. What is the character of these 3 tribes? Their totems give clues: Lion of Judah, strong-boned ass of Issaschar, ship/harbor of Zevulun. Judah, tribe of kings and warriors, “point man” in the military formation, leading the way to the East, place of New Beginnings, Mizrach – place of shining sun, accompanied by the resources provided by the other 2 tribes to sustain a new venture. Remembering that in Hebrew cosmology we speak of 4 Ruchot (4 Winds or 4 Spirits), not 4 directions, we are then aware of the metaphor: whichever direction we personally will head off into a new beginning, we psychospiritually lead with our tribe of Judah, the lion, courage, supported by sustenance. So this is true if we are entering a phase in our lives seeking Clarity (south), or Healing (West), or entering into some new Mystery (North). Leading us into the new beginning is our kingly, warrior Lion of Judah. (Note: for fuller description of this, see “Magic of the Ordinary” by R Gershon Winkler).
BaMidbar 2: 10: “The banner of the tribe of Reuben is to the South . . .” South, the place of reflection, clarifying, the archangel Michael (“Who is like God”) allowing one to see how he/she reflects the Holy One within his/her being. Reuven, whose totem is Water, leads the other 2 tribes of Shimon (the black sheep of the family, whose symbol, the city of Shechem, reminds us of his treachery in slaughtering the inhabitants of that town), and Gad, a warrior tribe with the totem of military tents.
As we read these words of Torah, we are aware that we are reclaiming the knowledge of our Peoples’ ancient ways and ancient energies. It is enlivening to the imagination, and the Nefesh is flowing.
BaMidbar 2:18: “The banner of the camp of Ephraim . . . is to the West . . . “
We observe that the western tribes had the fewest warriors, and that none of the 3 tribes – Ephraim, Menashe, or Benjamin – are noted for being among the strongest of the warrior tribes, though the totems of Ephraim (bull) and Benjamin (wolf) certainly suggest strength and fierceness. So it would seem that the people were most vulnerable to the west, and in fact we recall that Amalek did indeed attack from the rear. This seems consistent with our knowledge of the energies of West – place of healing, vulnerability.
Was the western flank somehow protected in some other way? We realize that the formation of journeying and camping may have taken the form, not of a square, but of the Magen David, the 6-pointed star. If we align the tribes as described in this chapter to the geometry of the Shield of David, we can see that the vulnerable western tribes were in fact flanked by 2 of the 3 strongest warrior tribes, Gad and Dan. This may have lent some added protection to the otherwise vulnerable rear guard.
BaMidbar 2:25: The banner of the camp of Dan is to the north . . . “
Though we did not discuss them in our study session, the tribal grouping to the North, and their totems, consisted of Dan – serpent; Asher – olive tree; Naphtali – deer.
See the attached table for summary of allignments of tribes, totems, symbols, colors, and stones.
Some questions that arose during discussion:
How large an area did they cover?
If there were over 600,000 men, there were no doubt well over 2 million people camping in formation, including women and children. If they covered an area of 2 square miles, this would be the equivalent of all of us encamped at Joshua Tree within just the kitchen area. So they were likely spread out well beyond this.
How did they keep order amongst themselves, being such a huge group?
During the census (BaMidbar, Chapter 1), the 12 Princes of the Tribes were named, one man for each tribe. These names held high significance, reflecting the entire history of his tribe to that point, as described in Midrash BaMidbar Rabah, which was translated by Henrietta Szold (founder of Hadassah) and appears in Ginzburg’s classic “Legends of the Jews”. Each of these tribal princes held leadership over his tribe, and there were no doubt governmental, administrative, and other social divisions within each tribe that kept rule within that tribe. Of course Moses was in charge of the whole shebang, as spiritual leader of the entire people, but we know from Parashat Yitro in the Book of Exodus, that he divided the judiciary into operational bite-size pieces in order that the people could be justly governed.
BaMidbar 2:34: “. . . so they encamped, according to their banners, and so they journeyed . . . “
The final verse of the chapter again emphasizes the importance of the formation, by which the people both camped and journeyed. The Hebrew for this phrase is concise and poetic, “Kayn-Chanu . . . v’chayn na’ah’su”, driving home the point that there was something foundational and of primary essence involved in the geometry of the formation. The midrash tells us:
“The division of the tribes of Israel according to four standards, as well as their subdivision at each standard, is not arbitrary and accidental, it corresponds to the same plan and direction as that of which God made use in heaven. The celestial Throne is surrounded by four angels: to the right Michael, in front Gabriel, to the left Uriel, and to the rear Raphael. To these four angels corresponded the four tribes of Reuben, Judah, Dan, and Ephraim, the standard bearers.”
Thus, as with everything related to the Tabernacle, and indeed a primary principle in our Hebrew tradition, everything in the physical realm echoes that in the spiritual realm. As Jacob’s Ladder is firmly planted in the earth but reaches to the heavens, so is our consciousness meant to always be in both places at all times.
· Saturday, December 8, first night of Chanukah
· Location: Michael and Sandra’s home, Encino
o 4-6 PM study group, followed by pot-luck dinner, candle-lighting, and Chanukah party