Motzei Shabbos: parashas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20)
“The Children of Israel shall encamp, every man at his camp and every man at his banner, according to their legions.” – Numbers 1:52
A census is taken. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel is counted separately. With the establishment of the Mishkan (Sanctuary), all the tribes have a central focus. Because of this centrality in regard to the tabernacle, each tribe would pool together its talents for the sake of Israel’s purpose of service to the L-RD.
The Levites “were not counted among them” (Numbers 1:47). For they were appointed “over the Tabernacle of Testimony, over all of its utensils and over everything that belongs to it” (Numbers, 1:50). They were also in charge of rebuilding the sanctuary, and taking it down, whenever the Children of Israel moved to a new location in the wilderness, during those forty years of traveling in the desert.
“He found him in a desert land, and in the waste, a howling wilderness; He compassed him about, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Rashi comments, “There He surrounded them and encompassed them with the “clouds of Glory”; He surrounded them with the banners on their four sides” (Rashi; sefaria.org).
The tribes were encamped around the Sanctuary: three tribes in each direction. The Levites were along three of the sides of the Mishkan. And, “those who encamped before the Tabernacle to the front, before the Tent of Meeting to the east, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guardians of the charge of the sanctuary” (Numbers 3:38).
Central to the entire formation, was the Ark of the Covenant in the Mishkan. The Shechinah would rest in between the golden cherubim that were made from a single piece of gold on top of the Ark. This is the continuation of G-d’s voice at Sinai; the Ark housed the commandments that were given by Him. His voice may still be heard today through the words of scripture, as well as within the silence of the heart.