Chazal teach that the arrangement of the Jews’ encampment in the Wilderness paralleled the configuration of the Heavenly entourage that accompanied the Shechinah when it descended upon Har Sinai prior to the Giving of the Torah. Myriads of Heavenly Angels descended with Hashem, all grouped in composition under Degalim, banners. When Klal Yisrael saw this pattern, they, too, sought a sequence of Degalim for their encampment. It did not stop there. Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:4) state that when umos ha’olam, the nations of the world, saw Klal Yisrael encamped under the Degalim, they approached the Jewish People and attempted to initiate a relationship with them. They said, “We too will grant you distinction, giving you positions of importance, power and monarchy. The Jewish response was straightforward, “You cannot give us anything that will in any way match the greatness of the Degalim which Hashem bestowed upon us.” In summation, the gentiles attempted to disenfranchise us from Hashem, by enticing us with kavod, honor, prestige. Our response is quite simple: Whatever you tempt us with pales in comparison with the distinction Hashem accorded us with the Degalim.
What was notable about the Degalim that granted such extraordinary prestige to Klal Yisrael? What was it about the Degalim that made them feel so special? Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:6) teach that the Degalim were a sign that Klal Yisrael represented the legion of Hashem. It elevated their image. They were Hashem’s children, His hosts, His guard. The Shechinah reposed in the middle of the Camp, with all of the Shevatim, Tribes, encamped around it – each in its own pre-arranged place based upon its purpose and mission vis-à-vis the nation of Hashem. Yissachar symbolized and focused on Torah, Yehudah focused on the monarchy, while Reuven represented the attribute of teshuvah, repentance. Each of the tribes focused on its own Heavenly-designated mission; each was part of the large conglomerate of Klal Yisrael, who together were mekadesh, sanctified, the Name of Hashem.
What is the adhesive that bonds us together? The Meshech Chochmah (commentary to Parashas Emor) explains that the unified connection of Klal Yisrael that links us together as one people is unlike the relationship that the nations of the world have with one another. People of one country are linked to one another by virtue of the fact that they were born and raised in the same country and that they are culturally like-minded (for the most part). Klal Yisrael is bound together, its hiskashrus is its eternal bond with Hashem. This enduring relationship is ceaseless and constant, and it is what perpetuates us as a people.
Yaakov Avinu descended to Egypt with shivim nefesh, seventy souls (Bereishis 46:26). Nefesh is singular, because Yaakov’s entire family was viewed as one unified soul. Eisav’s family consisted of six nefashos, souls, in the plural (Bereishis 36:6), because they were all distant from one another, each with his own god, own religious philosophy, own way of life, own value system and goals. Klal Yisrael is focused collectively on Hashem – one G-d, one hashkafah, one matarah, purpose and meaning in life.
This, explains Horav Eliyahu Svei, zl, is why we require the services of our gedolei Yisrael, Torah giants, who lead and guide us. Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:8) teach that when Hashem instituted the designated places for each tribe’s encampment around the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu was concerned lest the tribes dissent and challenge their assigned places. Hashem reassured him that each tribe “knew” its allotted place. They would follow the same configuration that was designated by the Patriarch Yaakov for his funeral. He had demonstrated to them how and where each one should stand around his bier. This taught them volumes concerning each one’s ordained place. This is where he belonged; this is where he should encamp.
The Rosh Yeshivah gleans from here that in order to place everyone in his designated place, to show him clearly what is his mission, his purpose, how valuable and crucial he is to the success of an endeavor, how important his involvement is in its every aspect, one needs a father (figure). It was Yaakov Avinu who was mei’acheid, unified, Klal Yisrael, by showing each respective tribe where it should stand, where it belonged. This can only be performed by a father, because it is only to a father that one will listen and adhere.
This is the function of manhigei Yisrael, Torah leaders. They act as our “fathers.” That is how they should feel toward us and how we should respond reciprocally to them.