Formation of the Israelite Camp

May 17, 2015

וְהַלְוִיִּם לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָם לֹא הָתְפָּקְדוּ בְּתוֹכָם׃

The Leviim, however, were not recorded among them by their ancestral tribe.

Numbers 1:47

וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּה יְהֹוָה אֶת־מֹשֶׁה כֵּן־חָנוּ לְדִגְלֵיהֶם וְכֵן נָסָעוּ אִישׁ לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָיו עַל־בֵּית אֲבֹתָיו׃

The Israelites did accordingly; just as Hashem had commanded Moshe, so they camped by their standards, and so they marched, each with his clan according to his ancestral house.

Numbers 2:34

The Torah now outlines the arrangement of the Israelite camp. The Tabernacle has become the central focus of the community, so it is not surprising to hear the camp must be erected around it.


God tells Moses not to count the Levites in the census with the rest of the people, because they have a unique role to play. They are to take responsibility for the Tabernacle and its utensils, assembling and disassembling the components as needed during the Israelites’ travels. It therefore makes sense that God commands them to encamp directly around the Tabernacle.


The rest of the tribes are arranged in groups of three around the Levites, one group for each point of the compass. Judah, along with Issachar and Zebulun, take the eastern camp; Reuben, along with Simeon and Gad, are in the south; Ephraim, along with Manasseh and Benjamin, encamp in the west; and Dan, with Asher and Naphtali, round out the north. Thus, the eastern camp held 186,400, the southern camp numbered 151,450, the western camp contained 180,100 and the northern camp consisted of 157,600 members.


The Israel Bible explains that as forebear of the Davidic dynasty, the tribe of Judah was given the place of honor at the front of the Israelite camp, in the direction of the rising sun. Whenever the people traveled, it was Judah who led the way.


Each mini-camp had its own banner with a unique insignia. Similarly, the modern state of Israel has its own flag with imagery that evokes its uniqueness. The Israel Bible relates the story behind the flag of Israel, which dates back to the First Zionist Congress in 1897. According to David Wolffsohn, a prominent member of the early Zionist movement, “…an idea struck me. We have a flag — and it is blue and white. The tallit (prayer shawl) with which we wrap ourselves when we pray: that is our symbol. Let us that the tallit from its bag and unroll in before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations. So I ordered a blue and white flag with the Shield of David painted upon it. That is how the national flag, that flew over Congress Hall, came into being.”


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Considering their various relationships to one another, why do you think the tribes were grouped together they way they were?


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