The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:9, Pirkei R. Eliezer Ch. 3) identifies the four main directions as the sources of certain forces of nature:

  • East - from which emanates light, since the sun rises in that direction.  It is also the source of the East Wind, which is the most harmful of all the winds.

  • West - comes snow, hail, heat, frost, and showers.

  • South - the source of blessed dew and rains.

  • North - the direction from which darkness, harmful agents, mazikin and sheidim, are sent to the world.

The Mishkan was a microcosm.  The Leviim and the Tribes of Benei Yisrael were stationed around it according to a Divine arrangement by which each group, through its particular spiritual merits, combatted the harmful agents emanating from that direction.  They thus protected the entire world.

The Kohanim and Leviim were stationed in all four directions around the Mishkan as its honor guards.  They also maintained a constant watch so that no non-Kohen would enter to perform an act of Service forbidden to him.

HaShem gave Moshe detailed instructions as to where the Leviim families were to camp:

  • East of the Mishkan - Moshe, Aharon and Aharon's sons shall camp in the east, near the entrance of the Mishkan.  East is the direction of the rising sun, the direction of light.  Moshe, and Aharon with his sons, deserve to be placed there as a reward for the spiritual light which they disseminate with their Torah and mitzvot.

Only Moshe and Aharon with his sons camped directly next to the Mishkan; the other Leviim families - Gershon, Kehat, and Merari - rested at a distance of one thousand amos from the Mishkan.

  • West of the Mishkan - for Benei Gershon.  From the west come the snow, hail, frost, and heat.  The Benei Gershon possessed the spiritual power to shield Klal Yisrael from these natural forces.

  • South of the Mishkan - Benei Kehat camped at a distance of one thousand amos from the Mishkan.  Rains and blessings emanate from the south.  The Benei Kehat carried the Aron which symbolizes the Torah.  Their encampment in the south indicated that HaShem grants Klal Yisrael rain in proportion to their diligence in Torah study.  If Jews cease to study Torah, rain is withheld.

  • North of the Mishkan - The Benei Merari camped on the northern side of the Mishkan, at a distance of one thousand amos.  According to our Sages, the north represents the direction from which HaShem sends tribulations and punishments upon the world.  The wooden boards of the Mishkan, which this family carried, served as a reminder that HaShem would punish those who deviate from His ways with a "wooden rod."

The Mishkan was encircled by a third camp, the Machaneh Yisrael (Camp of Benei Yisrael) that contained all Twelve Tribes, three of which camped in each direction.  The Camp of Benei Yisrael was enclosed by the Clouds of Glory.  The erev rav (mixed multitude) remained outside the Clouds at all times.

The four leading degalim divisions of Tribes were Yehudah, Efrayim, Reuven and Dan and correspond to the four angelic divisions (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:9)

  • Yehudah's division reflected the Heavenly division led by the angel Gavri'el.

  • Efrayim's division paralleled the angelic division led by Rafa'el.

  • Reuven's division corresponds to the Heavenly hosts headed by Micha'el.

  • Dan's division was the earthly counterpart of the Heavenly division of Uri'el Above.

Also, the symbols embroidered upon the four leading banners corresponded to the four creatures that surround the Kisei HaKavod (Yechezk'el 1:10)

  • Corresponding to the figure of a man beneath the Heavenly Throne of Glory was Reuven's degel, on which were embroidered dudaim plants (whose roots resemble a man)

  • Parallel to the figure of a lion underneath the Kisei HaKavod was Yehudah's degel, which bore a lion.

  • Parallel to the Heavenly figure of a bullock was Efrayim's degel, on which was imbroidered a bullock.

  • Similar to the image of an eagle underneath the Heavenly Throne was Dan's degel, which bore the picture of an eagle (according to Midrash Lekach Tov, Yalkut Reuveini).

Encampment of Benei Yisrael

Reuven || Shimon || Levi || Yehudah || Yissachar || Zevulun || Dan || Gad || Naftali || Asher || Yosef || Benyamin





(Tribal Flags of Benei Yisrael)

  • Reuven

  • birth: 14 Kislev 2193 (25 Nov 1532 BCE)

  • death:  2318

  • lived 125 years

Degel Color






  • Shimon

  • b. 28 Tevet 2194 (26 Jan 1534 BCE)

  • d. 2314

  • lived 120 years

Degel Color Emblem Gem
Green   Pitedah


  • Levi

  • b. 16 Nissan 2195 (2 Apr 1535 BCE)

  • d. 2332

  • lived 137 years

Degel Color Emblem Gem
one-third black   Bareket
Sparkling Crystal
(a multi-colored stone)
one third red


  • Yehudah

  • b. 15 Sivan 2196 (17 Jun 1536 BCE)

  • d. 2315

  • lived 119 years

  • degel bore the Hebrew letters (initials of the three forefathers - Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov

Degel Color Emblem Gem
Sky blue   Nofech


  • Yissachar

  • 6 Sivan 2198 [Shavuot eve] (17 May 1538 BCE)

  • d. 2320

  • lived 122 years

Degel Color Emblem Gem
Bluish Black   Sapir


  • Zevulun

  • b. 7 Tishrei 2200 (2 Oct 1539 BCE)

  • d. 2314

  • lived 114 years

Degel Color Emblem Gem
White   Yahalom
(Or Diamond)
  • Dan
  • b. 9 Elul 2196 (8 Sept 1536 BCE)
  • d. 2321
  • lived 125 years
Degel Color Emblem Gem
Sapphire Blue   Leshem
(or Opal)


  • Gad
  • b. 10 Cheshvan 2198 (28 Oct 1537 BCE)
  • d. 2323
  • lived 125 years
Degel Color Emblem Gem
Gray   Achlamah
(Or Crystal or Amethyst)


  • Naftali
  • b. 5 Tishrei 2198 (23 Sept 1537 BCE)
  • d. 2331
  • lived 133 years
Degel Color Emblem Gem
Burgundy   Shevo


  • Asher
  • 20 Adar 2199 (23 Mar 1540 BCE)
  • 2322
  • lived 123 years
Degel Color Emblem Gem
Pearl   Tarshish


  • Yosef
  • b. 1 Tammuz 2199 (30 Jun 1539 BCE)
  • 2309
  • lived 110 years
Degel Color Emblem Gem
Black   Shoham
(Or Emerald)


  • Benyamin
  • b. 11 Cheshvan 2208 (7 Nov 1547 BCE)
  • d. 2317
  • lived 109 years
Degel Color Emblem Gem
(consisting of all colors of the other tribes)

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