(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
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
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,
Encampment of Benei Yisrael