The camps in the east were closest to the entrance of the Mishkan and symbolized light (the sun rises in the east). Those tribes were committed to Torah learning, so they were placed in the east. Learning Torah elevates one’s spiritual light within; therefore, those who were dedicated Torah scholars were rewarded with residing in the eastern camp.
1. The Tribe of Yehuda was placed in the east, for the members of this Tribe were to be monarchs, who are termed ‘light,’ because their role in the Jewish society is to instill the light and wisdom of the Torah onto their nation.
2. The Tribe of Yissachar was placed in the east because the members of this tribe were avid Torah scholars. Throughout the dark ages of persecution and assimilation, the Torah scholars of Yissachar shed light onto the Jewish people and they continued to learn Torah and develop the religious identity of the Jewish nation.
3. The Tribe of Zevulun was placed in the east because the members of this tribe were business savvy, with merchants and tradesmen, who used their wealth to support learning for the members of the Tribe of Yissachar. Additionally, this Tribe also had Torah scholars of their own. Because they used their money to support Torah learning, Hashem considered their deeds as shedding light onto future generations.
The entire eastern camp emanated with Torah learning. All the inhabitants of these three tribes were constantly surrounded by men who lived by the wisdom of the beautiful Torah. How great it must have been to live in the eastern camp! This is a lesson for us all. When choosing neighbors or friends, we must recognize the influence people we associate ourselves with have on us. In order to establish a Torah perspective about every aspect in one’s life, one must commit himself to making friendships with people who exert a positive influence on him, letting him see the inner light that can shine within.
The southern camps symbolize rain, because the blessing of rain emanates from the south. The amount of rain Hashem blesses the nation of Israel with corresponds with their diligence in studying Torah. The more the nation will study, the more rain there will be, if they terminate their Torah learning, Hashem will withhold the rain (rain is essential to the existence of man’s needs, just as the Torah is essential to the existence of the Jewish people).
1. The Tribe of Reuvain was placed in the south. In Berashit, Reuvain had sinned, the incident involving Bilha; however, despite his sinful behavior, soon after, he repented and was the first ba’al teshuva- returning to Judaism. In the merit of his teshuva- repentance- that he made to Hashem, his descendants were rewarded with being in the south, for it’s land was blessed with rain. Moreover, from this it is clear that blessings come to those who make teshuva- repentance- and get closer to Hashem. By recognizing our transgressions, either purposeful or not, we can rekindle our relationship with Hashem, and by doing so, we will be blessed indefinitely, and so will our future descendents.
2. The Tribe of Gad was placed in the south. The members of this tribe were warriors who fought for Bnai Israel and had the spiritual power to evoke Hashem’s shechina down to Bnai Israel.
3. The Tribe of Shimon was placed in the south, in between Reuvain and Gad. Yakov did not bless Shimon, for his sin in selling Yosef and for initiating the destruction of She’chem. Because of their lack of blessing, Hashem placed this tribe in the middle of two great tribes, in order that they would learn from their neighbors. Again we can see the powerful affects good neighbors and friends have on our personal development.
The Western camps were 2,000 amos from the entrance of the Mishkan. Snow, hail, frost, and heat emanated from the west, all these forces are destructive and can cause death. Hashem commanded that the children of Rachel be placed in this camp, for they had the spiritual power to overpower these evil forces.
1. The Tribe of Ephraim, Binyamin, and Menashe were all placed in the west. Each tribe was endowed with the ability to defeat their evil inclination. Because of Hashem’s love for Binyamin, Hashem’s shechina rested in the west; hence his tribe was stationed there.
The Northern Camps were 1,000 amos from the entrance of the Mishkan. The north symbolizes darkness and harmful agents that are sent into this world.
1. The Tribe of Dan was placed in the north to be admonished for their sins (King Yeravam set up two golden calves in their territory and they worshiped idols during the times of the judges). By placing them in the north, Hashem wanted to shed light on them through all the darkness for them to be inspired and choose a righteous path.
2. The Tribe of Asher was placed in the north to shed some of it’s light onto the Tribe of Dan. Asher’s land was blessed with olives, which were crushed for the oil needed in the menorahs in the Mishkan. The Tribe of Asher was meant to shed light and wisdom onto the Tribe of Dan.
3. The Tribe of Naftali was placed in the north next to Dan because of the material blessing they possessed. Hashem had endowed this tribe with a Heavenly blessing of fortune that He wanted to spill over to benefit the less fortunate Tribe of Dan.
Moreover, Moshe was concerned about all the arguments that he would be getting from all the different tribes, ‘men from the south will request to be in the north, etc.’ However, Hashem comforted him and let him know that each tribe was fully aware where they were to be placed, each knowing his spiritual position in Jewish society. Accordingly to Yakov’s command before he died, he commanded his sons, “ Yehuda, Yissachchar, and Zevulun shall carry my coffin from the east; Reuvain, Shimon, and Gad from the south; Efrayim, Binyamin, an Menasche from the west; and Dan, Asher, and Naftali from the north. Yosef and Levi are exempt from this duty- Yosef because he is a king and it is undignified for a king to carry a bier, and Levi because his tribe will in the future bear the ark of Hashem.”
From here, we can see that the members of Bnai Israel had this history ingrained in their minds and remained faithful to their beloved forefather’s request. Moreover, they were all aware that their physical positioning symbolized how they were meant to develop their spiritual potentials in this world. In all, it is clear to see how each camp endowed it’s own special ability and special spiritual connection with Hashem. None of them felt inferior or superior to the other. Each tribe took pride in what they represented, knowing that the Almighty, King of Kings, endowed them each with something different, yet special.
Each group of Bnai Israel has something unique to offer the Jewish nation at large. Whether Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi, Charadi, Chasidic, Litfish, Lubavich, etc., we should all love one another and recognize that non of us is superior or inferior to one another, but rather, Hashem created us all with our differences to reach different spiritual potentials in this world. Additionally, through our differences, we can learn from each other and develop our potentials to the fullest. This is how Hashem wanted the Jewish people to unite, through our similarities and love for Torah, but also through our differences.