Flags and banners are used to represent a nation or group of people; a country, state, city, university, or even a sports team. There is usually a lot of symbolism put into making a flag which represents what the group stands for.
This week we start the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. In this parsha, besides the census, Hashem sets up how the Jewish people will travel and encamp in the desert. He also gave each one of them a flag, with the color of the flag corresponding to the stone each tribe was represented by on the choshen of the kohen gadol. Each flag also had it’s own unique emblem; for example Yehuda had a lion, representing his kingship; Yissachar had a sun and moon sewn on their flag because they were experts in astronomy; Zevulun had a boat on their flag representing the sea trade they were destined to do on the coasts of Israel; Menashe had a bull; Ephraim had an antelope; Binyamin had a wolf; etc. Each emblem embodied a unique characteristic about each tribe which was hinted to by Yaakov in his blessings to his children before he did.
The Medrish Tanchuma (Bamidbar, 10) presents a novel reason why Hashem gave each tribe a flag. The pasuk says “Each man by his flag…,” “אִ֣ישׁ עַל־דִּגְל֤וֹ” (Bamidbar 2:2), this is what the pasuk refers to when it says “Let us sing praises for your salvation, and let us assemble in the name of our G-d” “וּבְשֵׁם־אֱלֹהֵ֥ינוּ נִדְגֹּ֑ל” (Tehillim 20:6). “Let us sing praises of your salvation as it says, “Hashem saved” (Shemos 14:30). “And let us assemble in the name of our G-d,” The Blessed Be He’s name is like our name, and He made for us flags as it says, “Each man by his flag with signs.” Hashem showed an immense amount of love towards the Jews by making flags just as the angels [had when they came down by the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, which the Jews coveted,] in order to recognize the children of Reuvain, the children of Shimon etc.individually. How do you know this is a show of love? For it says, “He brought me to the house of wine, and his attraction to me [was symbolic of his] love,” “הֱבִיאַ֨נִי֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַיָּ֔יִן וְדִגְל֥וֹ עָלַ֖י אַֽהֲבָֽה” (Shir HaShirim 2:4). Rebbe Abahu said, how do we learn from the pasuk “and his attraction to me was love,” for “He brought me to the house of wine.” What is this compared to? To a wealthy person who had a cellar filled with wine. He entered one day to check on the wine and he found that everything had turned into vinegar. On his way out of the cellar he found one barrel of good wine. He said that this barrel is the most beloved in the entire cellar. So to Hashem created 70 nations but he only enjoyed the Jewish people as it says, “He brought me to the house of wine.” בֵּ֣ית הַיָּ֔יִן 2 yuds equal 20 and the nun equals 50 which all equals 70, referring to the 70 nations and from all of them He only loved the Jews as it says, “and his attraction to me was love.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Medrish is telling us that Hashem gave us flags as a show of love towards his children so that he can easily recognize them. But why does each tribe need a flag? Also, how does this fit with the parable which had only one love? There was only one barrel of wine which did not spoil, which is the one that the wealthy person cherished. So too Hashem loves the Jewish people more than any other nations of the world because we chose to stay good and accept Hashem’s guide book for mankind, the Torah, to follow and live by it, where as all the other nations chose to reject the Torah and spoil their lives with whatever they chose to do. So why should there be 12 flags? One flag for the Jewish people should be enough for Hashem to show his love and to give recognition of the Jewish people’s unique status?
It would seem that a true show of love is not made through just a general symbolic gesture like giving a gift or banner as recognition of that love; but rather individualizing that love, letting the one receiving the love show his or her shining colors in their own unique way, and capturing that uniqueness by showing how much you appreciate it. That is a better expression of love. Which is why Hashem wanted every tribe, with their own unique personality and character, to have their own unique flag, tailored made for them, so that Hashem will recognize and love them for being the individuals they are.
Later in the medrish it gives another interpretation of the pasuk in Shir HaShirim: “and his attraction to me was love,” Hashem says that even if a person is sitting, involved in Torah, from Torah to Torah, halacha to halacha, pasuk to pasuk, for me this is love and I cherish him, and his attraction to me was love.
The Etz Yosef explains that instead of reading the pasuk, “וְדִגְל֥וֹ עָלַ֖י” the medrish switches the lamed and gimel to read “וְדְִל֥גוֹ עָלַ֖י” which means skipping, this means to say that a person shouldn’t say, “How can I learn Torah if there are many areas which are to hard to understand, and I have to skip them,” Hashem says “Nevertheless I love you.”
What a powerful message of encouragement for of all of us! Even though the Orchos Tzadikim in the Chapter on Remembrance, 5th reminder says, “The fifth thing to remember is the mercy of God, who has shown mercy to him by giving him His pure Torah. Now if a king of flesh and blood had sent him a letter and he read it through and there was something in it that he did not understand, what anguish he would feel because he did not understand what the king was commanding him. And there is no doubt that if there was in the vicinity even a very insignificant person who knew how to explain that which he did not understand, he would hasten to go to him and would not be ashamed at all to inquire. How much more, then, should he be grateful for the Torah of our God (which explains everything).” One might think that if he is having difficulty understanding something of such magnitude he might as well give up then to skip around, that is a disgrace to Hashem and his Torah! Hashem responds I still love you even if you skip around. Do not give up entirely it is better for you to learn what you can and skip the hard part, and I still love you for doing that. Certainly, if one toils and sweats over understanding every detail of Hashem’s Torah, Hashem will be overjoyed but if you do not give up Hashem still loves you for whatever you do learn.
Hashem sets the bar for such detail one must appreciate andhow to express love for another.