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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Bemidbar: Parashat Bemidbar: Beohtot (In signs)

Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi

This Shabbat we begin a new sefer � Bemidbar. One of the main focuses of the Parasha is the counting of the tribes of Yisrael as they begin their trek through the desert. The Parasha also discusses the method in which Bnei Yisrael traveled through the desert. They were instructed to be in formation, three tribes in each direction, and in the center the encampment of the "Shechinah" (Divine Spirit) and the Ohel Moed (Tabernacle).

"Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon: Bnei Yisrael are to camp around the Tabernacle some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family." (Bemidbar, 2:1-2)

Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon that each person must be under "diglo" - his "flag or banner", and "be�ohtot", in his "sign". The Mefarshim on the Torah discuss the "sign" that the text is ambiguously referring to. Rashi explains that each flag had its own color. He brings a second answer that the text is referring to the sign that Yaacob transmitted to his sons. He told them to stand in a formation, with 3 sons on each direction. According to this second understanding of Rashi, the tribes are to emulate this formation.

Ibn Ezra explains differently. Each person under his "sign" is referring to the image that was given to each tribe by Yaacob and various prophets: For Yehoudah, the lion; the tribe of Dan, an eagle and so forth.

I would like to present a different interpretation of the verse, by way of the "derash" or homiletic interpretation.

"But the men will consent to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are." (Beresheet 34:22)

In Hebrew, the word "Yeoht�tou" translated here to mean "will consent" as the root word "oht" (in Hebrew- aleph, vav, taf) which means- a sign. In our verse above "be�ohtot" means "in signs" as the above-mentioned commentators explain. Most likely, the root word�s meaning, "to consent with" or "agree with" came from its more concrete meaning "a sign".

How? When one agrees with another person, one makes a sign to show his agreement. Be it a nod of the head, or a gesture in his hand, usually a person makes some sign to show his agreement. It stands to reason that the meaning of "to make a sign to" later evolved to mean "to agree with".

Based upon this new understanding, we can reinvestigate our verse: Each person must be under his flag, "in agreement". Again, this is not the simple understanding of the verse. Still, we can interrupt from the Torah that each person stayed in his unique tribe under their unique banner, with the agreement and full respect of all others.

What a message for us today. We experienced one of the community�s largest loses this past week, with the passing of Hagaon Rabeynou Refael Barouch Ben Miryam A"H. If there is anything to garner from the passing of this great man, is that we should truly be a community that is united in spirit & action and not just united "in theory", in various Rabbis� speeches. We must work to respect each other�s different "flag" and agree to disagree on certain issues. Nevertheless, we are all Jews, we will all be redeemed by the same Mashiah, and we all have the same fears and enemies in the world. Sometimes we get caught up in our wonderful community and forget the larger picture. We need each other, now more than ever.w.chkbnr.
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