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PARSHAT BAMIDBAR: FINDING OU LIFE’S PURPOSE

Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )

The Torah portion outlines how G-d instructs that each tribe should have Its own flag (degel). The Midrash provides fascinating background to the seemingly mundane passage. The Midrash1 teaches that says that when G-d’s Presence descended upon Mount Sinai 22,000 angels descended with Him – each with flags. The Jewish People saw this sight and they began to passionately long for flags for themselves. G-d responded that since they longed for flags, He would grant their wish. Therefore, He gave them the flags in this week’s Parsha.

This Midrash needs explanation: Firstly, a flag is a physical item and angels are entirely spiritual so what exactly does it mean that the angels had flags. Secondly, what was so special about the flags that the Jewish People had a great desire for them as well?

Rabbi Yissachar Frand answers that the flag is not just a physical symbol, rather it represents a person’s purpose.2 When it says that each angel had a flag, it means that each had their own role and purpose. Chazal say in many places that every angel has one specific purpose. For example, Raphael heals and Michael gives good tidings. When the Jewish people saw that each angel had a flag, it means that they recognized how each one knew its role in the Heavenly Plan. When the Jewish People saw this, they developed an intense desire to find their own purpose in the Heavenly Plan. Accordingly, G-d designated flags for each tribe so that they would understand their purpose.

In truth, Yaakov already assigned the tribes their purposes when he blessed them. His blessings were not simply how we perceive blessings, rather he was communicating to them their essence and qualities so they could know their roles.

Needless to say, this idea is not restricted to the tribes, rather each individual has his own purpose in life. While it is obviously essential that a person keep Torah and mitzvot, a number of sources prove that this is insufficient in enabling a person to fulfil his potential. For example, in the Shemoneh Esrei.

There are a number of possible factors that can help a person develop an idea of his unique role in the world. One is what he is natural talented in: For example, if he has a talent in writing, he should try to write in such a way that can increase awareness of G-d in the world. In a similar vein, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz would make a play on the verse, “Kabed et HaShem B’Honcha3 (honor G-d with your abilities) and say, “Kabed et HaShem B’Groncha” – honor G-d with your throat, meaning that one should use their voice to honor G-d. He would cite the frightening Midrash4 that Naboth HaCarmeli was punished because of his ‘sin’ that on one occasion he did not go to Jerusalem to sing even though he had a wonderful voice. He was punished for not using his natural talent to increase the honor of G-d.

Another factor that can help one know one’s purpose the situation that Divine Providence places him in. Sometimes a person may be forced into doing something due to external circumstances which can bring out previously unknown qualities. For example, he may need to raise money for a good cause and even though he never fundraised, he may find that he succeeds in that area. Similarly, it is not uncommon that a person endures a certain difficulty or even tragedy that can cause him to focus on helping people in the same situation. One example of that is a Rabbi who, could not have children for many years and knew, better than everyone else, the hardship of all the challenges that childless couples endure. Consequently, he started an organization that helps makes the process a lot easier for couples going through this hardship.

A final point that people may not be aware of, is that sometimes a person may not be particularly talented in an area, and he may not have any experience in a certain area, yet he may be aroused by his own observations of an area that needs great improvement. Consequently, he decides to endeavor to fill the gap in that area and succeeds through great Heavenly help as a reward for his efforts. A remarkable, recent example of such aa person was Rabbi Meir Shuster. He was naturally a shy person who was most happy learning or praying. However, many years ago, he recognized a need for the Jewish people – every day dozens of secular Jews would visit the Kotel and return back to their lives empty of Torah. He saw the necessity to approach these people and offer them accommodation in a hostel that could serve as the base with which to encourage the visitors to go to Yeshiva or Seminary. Consequently, he took it upon himself to go against his nature and walk up to these strangers and engage them in conversation. After doing this for many years, it is impossible to know how many hundreds of lives have been changed by his bold decision to do something against his nature because he felt it was G-d’s will. But it is clear that had he limited himself to his natural areas of strength then the world would have greatly suffered for it.

We have seen that each person has a unique purpose in the world. May we all merit to find our purpose and fulfil it.

By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Notes

  1. Bamdibar Rabbah, 2:3.
  2. The same approach is found in other works, including Hadrachat HaParsha by Rabbi Shalom Bertman, and Meishiv Mordechai, by Rabbi Mordechai Walmark.
  3. Mishlei, 3:9 The Midrash (Tanchuma, Re’eh 12) makes a homiletical interpretation that this refers to one’s G-d given talents.
  4. Yalkut Shimoni, Melachim, Remez 221.



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