Wherever the Jewish People camped and traveled in the wilderness, the tribes were always positioned in a particular formation, which the Torah goes into lengthy detail about several times.
But we’re all Jewish! Why was there any kind of formation, and why does it matter to us?
R’ Norman Lamm notes that one of the times we read about the formation is before Shavuos when we celebrate receiving the Torah. We might think that we’re doing pretty great – we’re in the camp of Torah after all!
The Torah gently reminds us that that’s never been enough. The twelve tribes all had different characteristics, and each contributed in their own particular way. For example, Yehuda, the largest and strongest, and tapped for leadership and monarchy, was the first in the formation and the first into battle.
We all have particular skills and functions useful at a particular time and place. It’s not enough to be Torah oriented in general – what is your individual place and purpose in particular? What do you stand for?
We need only remind ourselves of Bilam, a man whose belief in God’s existence was as genuine and absolute as it gets, and yet, remained an awful human.
Believing is step one only. The formations matter because we need a reminder that we can’t hide in the crowd.
It’s what we do that matters.