This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, reminds us to come together. In the desert, God says to conduct a census and to count the twelve tribes of Israel. After finishing the counting, the Jews are instructed to arrange their camp in the wilderness in a specific order. All of the tribes excluding the tribe of Levi, would be divided into four groups of three. Each group would have its place around the Tabernacle which would be in the center of the camp. The tribe of Levi would camp around the Tabernacle to guard it. It seems somewhat counterproductive to divide up the Jewish nation in this way because it could easily lead to disunity. However, I like to think that there is a better way to view this division.
Let’s think of these groups, in the desert, like our edot (age groups) at camp. This kayitz (summer), we will all be divided into different edot, ranging from Gesher to Machon. We will be on our own schedules, we will maintain our own “mekomot t’fillah” (praying place), we will go on our separate tiyulim (overnights), and we will chant our unique edah songs as loud as we can. Again, just like the Jews, dividing camp up into different groups this way might cause camp to become disunited.
What we haven’t yet identified is that each edah will have it’s own purpose around camp, just like the groups in Bamidbar had their place around the Tabernacle. Within each age group, we can conduct our own census of chanichim (campers), and what we will discover is that within each edah, each chanich or chanichah will contribute his or her entire self to the whole. Along with your backpack, you will be responsible for bringing your unique skills, stories, silliness, and selves to the edah. We are all contributing to the Ramah kehillah (community) as we work towards the same goals this summer. While each edah will bring its unique values and ruach to the rest of camp, we will all be an integral part of the machaneh (camp).
This is what we learn from the arrangement of the tribes in the wilderness. Each group was recognized in its role and each group was camping in equal proximity to the Tabernacle. The core and focus of this division was performing God’s will, even though the approach for each group was different. Just like the Jews in the desert, each edah will contribute its own unique part this summer and each of you will give back to camp in your own unique way. Let’s all leave our mark!