Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
This week’s parsha is devoted to the regimentation of the Jewish people during their years in the desert. The 12 שבטים (tribes) were counted and organized into camps with a very specific configuration, both during traveling and when they camped. The center of the camp was always the holiest. When they were encamped, it was the אהל מועד (Tent of Meeting) containing the ark and the holy vessels that stood in the center surrounded by the 12 tribes in their designated configurations. The mishkan was the center of the communal service and sacrifice to Hashem. During travel, the holy vessels were covered and carried in the midst of the procession. Throughout the description, there are warnings to maintain careful boundaries and that the Holy should not be trespassed upon.
Rav Shamshon R. Hirsch (prominent Jewish thinker and Chumash commentator 1808-1888) notes the dichotomy in this arrangement. The Tabernacle and the Torah that sanctifies it are the unifying presence in the midst of the camp. This conveys a message of affinity to the Torah and its constant presence in our lives. However, at the same time, the Torah must be regarded with extreme awe and approached with respect and trepidation.
Rav Hirsch explains that these formalities are an expression of the Jew’s relation to the Torah. The Torah is not a set of communal values that were developed by the Jewish people to guide the community’s interaction. It is a G-d given Torah, imposed from the outside which we must accept and use to model our thinking and our lives. Nothing else will work for us. Therefore, it is in our midst; yet, it is also separated from us by boundaries to assure that we have the correct attitude when we relate to it with respect and trepidation.
The centrality of the Torah to our lives, the accountability it creates for us and the awe we have for it are merged with our joy that Hashem has chosen us to receive His Torah. It is the Torah that testifies that we are His chosen people, and it is the Torah that is His expression of love to us. We reciprocate by expressing our love for Him by learning His beloved Torah, toiling to understand it and to come closer to Hashem through it.