Yaakov Ovinu Arranged the Shevotim to carry him to his buriel
in the same Pattern that they will walk with the Degolim in the midbor
In this week’s mamar we discuss the Midrash that Rashi brings in short, but it is mentioned in length in Medrash Tancumeh:
When Yaakov Avinu passed from this world, he blessed each of his sons and gave them specific instructions regarding how they were to carry him to the Land of Cenaan. He emphasized that they do so with reverence and respect and that no one touch his bier—especially none of the Egyptians. . . He specified which three sons were to stand on the eastern side, which three on the southern side, which three on the northern side and which three on the western side. Yaakov promised them that in return for fulfilling his instructions, HKB”H would rest His Presence upon them in similar divisions, in the future.
They honored his commands and HKB”H fulfilled the promise. Moshe, however, feared that these divisions would stir up controversy. HKB”H told Moshe not to concern himself with such worries; each tribe will know and recognize its proper position based on their father’s instructions. I have not instituted anything new for them in this matter—their positions are in accordance with the way they surrounded Yaakov’s bier; they will surround the Mishkan in a similar fashion.
Thus, we have learned an astonishing fact. During the entire forty year sojourn in the desert–during which time they completed forty-two distinct journeys, on their way from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel–they travelled and camped according to the very same pattern and order as they had done while transporting Yaakov Avinu after he passed away. We must endeavor to understand why Yaakov Avinu arranged them in this specific order; furthermore, his instructions conveyed to them that they would follow this same pattern and array during their travels in the desert wilderness.
We propose an explanation based on the description we find concerning the manner in which Elisha took leave of his holy Rabbi Eliyahu HaNovi—who ascended to the heavens in a whirlwind (Melochim 2 2, 9): “As they were crossing, Eliyahu said to Elisha, Request what I should do for you before I am taken away from you. Elisha said, May twice as much as your spirit be mine. He said, You have made a difficult request. If you see me taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if you do not, then it will not happen.”
A chossid of the great Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, zy”a, expressed his desire to experience the same excitement and sense of enlightenment that he experienced while in the Rebbe’s presence even while back in his own home. The Rebbe explained that at the moment he took leave of the Rebbe, the student was overwhelmed by feelings of longing and desire; but, with time, those passions tended to subside. Rabbi Meir advised the student to always picture in his mind the moment he left his Rebbe; this would help reinforce and maintain the strong bond between the student and his Rebbe even back in his own home.
He then employed this concept to explain Eliyahu’s response to Elisha: “If you see me taken from you, it shall be so for you”. In other words, Eliyahu was suggesting that Elisha constantly picture in his mind’s eye the image of how Eliyahu was taken away heavenward in a fiery chariot and a whirlwind and the emotions experienced by Elisha at that moment. He was telling Elisha that this would help maintain the strong bond between them even after Eliyahu’s ascent to the heavens. This can be understood as follows: by means of the passionate longing of the student, the teacher is able to continue influencing the student—even after ascending to the heavens.
Alas, we can rejoice at having gained some insight into Yaakov Avinu’s tremendous wisdom and loftier purpose. He commanded his sons to transport him for burial in the precise order and array that they would travel and camp in the desert. After all, the midbor, the desert wilderness, is a place where the negative forces of impurity and the Klipos reign as explained by the Arizal in Shaar HaKavons.
Certainly, during their forty year sojourn in the desert, Bnei Yisroel were at great risk of falling prey to the negative influences of the Klipos, chas v’shalom—especially after departing from Mitzrayim where they had fallen to the forty-ninth level of tumah. Therefore, Yaakov Avinu felt it necessary to devise a method to insure his children’s safe passage through this dangerous area. This was accomplished by instructing his children, the heads of the tribes, to transport him to burial according to the order and divisions that would prevail in the midbor. For, throughout their travels during their forty year stay in the desert wilderness, they would always replicate the order and formation instituted for transporting Yaakov to his burial. This would insure that they would always remember the emotional attachment they felt toward Yaakov when they left him and would guarantee their attachment to the kedushah that he transmitted to them.
So Chaveirim let us acquire an important message: In order to succeed in the present and in the future we must remember the past. Let us all have a wonderful Shabbes.
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