Every year, Parshat Bamidbar is read on the Shabbat before the holiday of Shavuot. The portions that are read around holiday times are not there coincidently, and it is incumbent upon us to try to pinpoint the connection between the Parshah and the holiday, and how the message of the Torah portion can help us connect to the theme of the holiday in a deeper way.
Parshat Bamidbar describes the formation of the encampment of the Jewish nation during their time in the desert. The twelve tribes of Israel were to be encamped around the Sanctuary in four groups of three tribes each and to travel in that same formation.
But this was not the first time that the people were positioned in this formation. The commentaries explain that this was directly parallel to the way they encamped around Sinai at the time of the Giving of the Torah. And that formation was not original either. Our Sages further teach us that the arrangement of the four camps corresponds to the "four camps of the Divine Presence" and the "four camps of angels" that surround Hashem’s Throne of Glory. At Sinai, when the Jewish nation reached a very high level of prophecy and witnessed this heavenly formation they also requested to parallel that formation on this world and that become the model for their encampment both at Sinai and in the desert.
The idea that the Jewish people would be replicating their Sinai formation as they travelled through the desert is certainly a wonderful idea, portraying how the Jewish people were try to maintain that level of expanded consciousness no matter where they journey took them.
But furthermore, when we consider that the wandering in the desert and the many stops that Jewish people made represented the future wandering the Jewish nation would have to do for most of our history, we see a whole new depth to the significance of this formation. The Jews traveling from place to place in the Sinai formation is a representation that no matter where we would find ourselves throughout the ages, no matter how many stops we would have to make in our wanderings through Exile, no matter how many times we will need to “break camp” and rebuild at the next stop, we would always maintain our formation, and try to recreate Sinai in our new home.
In fact, this has been our story. All of those years “in the desert” without a homeland, constantly being attacked by the animals and the elements that are the nations of the world, we rebuilt and recreated ourselves again and again. We re-established Sinai.
Thus we see a very strong connection to the holiday of Shavuot which this reading precedes. Shavuot is a day of reaccepting the Torah and reestablishing our connection to Sinai. In our daily prayers we ask Hashem to “Give us our portion in Torah”. We are asking Hashem to help us see the relevance of Torah in our lives, to open our eyes to the Torah messages that will awaken our souls and allow us to discover our unique path to Hashem. On Shavuos, we merit that those prayers are answered, as we are all judged in this area.
May each one of us merit to have our prayers answered and to use this time to reestablish our own Sinai.