An inconsistency seems to be manifest in the text of this pasuk. Hashem enjoins Klal Yisrael to camp “mineged,” at a distance, and “saviv“, surrounding. Are they to camp mineged or saviv? If it is opposite it is not close. The Satmar Rebbe, zl, cites his father in his sefer, “Yetev Lev.” He explains this apparent contradiction in light of Rashi’s interpretation of the phrase, “b’osos l’bais avosam,” “according to the insignias of their fathers’ household,” as a reference to the signs that Yaakov gave his sons, regarding the formation of his sons when they were to serve as his pallbearers. When Yaakov placed Efraim before Menashe — the younger broter before the older brother — he was apparently indicating that his perspective was oriented to the future. Efraim would one day succeed Menashe in spiritual status and prestige. Yaakov subsequently selected Efraim to precede Menashe.
With this idea in mind, we can understand the Torah’s intention in using two terms that seem to contradict each other. In the Talmud Megillah 29, Chazal state that one day the Houses of Study and Worship situated in Babylon will be reinstated in Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, in the Midrash it is stated that the future Bais Hamikdash will be the size of Yerushalayim. The Maharshah attributes this to the fact that one day all of the shuls will combine with the Bais Hamikdash. In other words, the shuls and yeshivos in galus, exile, are considered part of the future Bais Hamikdash. What an incredible statement! The Batei Medrash and Batei Knesses of today are the Bais Hamikdash of the future! This should give us something to think about the next time we enter a makom Torah.
Thus, while the m’komos ha’Torah of the Diaspora may presently be “distant” in a spiritual and physical manner from the Bais Hamikdash, if we ascribe to Yaakov Avinu’s perspective of looking to the future to become the present, then what is far is really near. This is why the Torah says each person rested nearby the Mishkan while it says they were m’neged, distant. They rested “b’osos l’bais avosom.” according to the charge and legacy of their ancestor Yaakov, who integrated the future with the present.
We may suggest an alternative reason for the discrepancy of the words describing Klal Yisrael’s geographic placement vis-a-vis the Ohel Moed. Rashi interprets the word “mineged” as implying “distant from.” We find in the Mishnayos Peah, Chazal enumerate a number of wonderful mitzvos which focus on social, humanistic and religious areas of communal life. The Mishnah concludes with the words,”V’talmud Torah k’neged kulam,” “and/but the study of Torah is greater than/supercedes all of them.” We are confronted with a textual question: If the purpose of this Mishnah is to convey to us that Torah study is greater than all these wonderful mitzvos, then rather than use the word “k’neged,” which is usually translated as “opposite,” they should have said, “oleh al kulam,” goes above them. Why use a word which has a contradictory connotation? My rebbe, Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, explained that the Mishnah uses the word k’neged, opposite, by design. Chazal are teaching us that every mitzvah or good deed, regardless of its noble intentions and social benefits, must stand up to the Torah’s purview, to its criteria for establishing the veracity of this endeavor. It must be stood up opposite the Torah, to see what the Torah “says” about the manner in which we perform this mitzvah, our true goals and objectives. Only after it has passed the Torah’s approval does it become a mitzvah. A similar thought may be expressed in regard to those people situating themselves in close proximity to the Ohel Moed. People may say, and even think, they are doing the right thing. They may believe that they perform mitzvos with the greatest integrity. Their actions and intentions must be stood up opposite, k’neged, the Torah, however, to determine if they are really misaviv, close by or mineged, far removed from the Torah. In other words, it is possible to be close by and actually be distant simultaneously.