Throughout our forty year sojourn in the desert, Bnai Yisrael were counted various times. In the beginning of Sefer BaMidbar the Torah tells us that in our second year, we were counted again. At the final tally, the Torah tells us, “Bnai Yisrael shall encamp, each man by his banner, according to the insignias of their father’s household”. This concept, that each shevet had a banner, a “degel”, with a specific color and insignia, is first mentioned here, not on the earlier countings.
If the “degel” is important, why is it introduced only now and not earlier. Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, in his sefer on chumash, explains as follows: In effect, when each shevet had its own particular flag, it was making a statement. “We are different than you. We have our color and our symbol.” The problem that arises is that this leads to divisiveness and a fragmented people. Bnai Yisroel are supposed to be one indivisible, inseparable group of people. If so, why did Moshe Rabeinu allow each shevet to display its own specific color?
Our strength is our cohesiveness. We are one people. However, we realize that each individual is unique and different. The beauty of Klal Yisrael, is that even though we understand our differences, we have our focal point aimed precisely in the same direction. Our goals and aspirations are similar.
When we left Mitzrayim, we were not ready for “degalim”. Different banners would have underscored our differences and individuality. Now, in our second year in the midbar, after we have built the Mishkan, we share in a common goal and purpose. The Mishkan, with the shechina residing within, unites all of Klal Yisrael. As different as we are, the Mishkan unites us. With the Mishkan in our midst, we can achieve harmony and “sheleimus”.
The very same way individuals have eyes, ears and a nose, each supporting a different sense, but all coming together to create a perfect being. All of Klal Yisrael, with our unique personalities, can unite into a perfect singular nation. Only now, are we ready and mature enough to have “degalim”.
The Young Israel of Staten Island is comparable to the Mishkan. It is a beautiful shul, spiritually and physically. It serves to unite all of its members and various families. With our many and varied minyanim, every person can feel comfortable and at home. With numerous shiurim and classes, everybody can participate. We have copious programs. From our youth department to little league, from young married to our retirees, we have something for everyone.
As Rabbi, it gives me much nachas, watching and seeing all these variations come together and coalesce into a wonderful harmoneous family. With our shul as the focal point, we share goals and aspirations. We revel in each others semachot, and console those that are bereaved.
The Young Israel of Staten Island is a true makom torah and avodah. It vibrates with warmth and effervescence. I invite all of you to visit our shul and community. Come and participate in a vibrant New York shul with an out-of-town enthusiasm and friendliness. Come share and contribute to all the nachas that I behold and receive on a constant daily basis. You are invited to become part of our family.
Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield