The order of play of the first part of our sedra is as follows: First, we are told about the princes of each tribe, followed by a reporting of the results of the count of each tribe’s population. After all this, the sedra tells of the encampment formations of the Bnei Yisrael, within which it gives the numbers of the tribes again. Why repeat the population numbers? As seems to be the norm, let’s speak about a related topic, through which we shall eventually return to our initial question.
There are two plains in Judaism; the individual and the communal/national (one’s immediate community in small, and klal yisrael in the big picture). It is the communal /national which has more power in general than the individual; and the national more than the communal. For example, we daven in a minyan to add power to our tefillah via using the merit of the many over the individual . Moreover, HaShem made a covenant with the Jewish people as a whole, and not merely with individuals; this is why the fact that four fifths of Bnei Yisrael did not survive the plague of darkness in Egypt did not break HaShem’s covenant to Avraham that his offspring would leave Egypt, for the covenant regarded the nation as a whole and not individual members.
Some people make an error in the way that these two plains are to interrelate. They think that to create unity amongst the communal facet, everyone must give up their individuality and merge into one clone-like homogenous unit. This is incorrect, for the communal aspect is to include each different individual with their own talents contributing to that communal facet. If everyone were to give up their unique talents, the mark of their individuality, they are not contributing to the communal; on the contrary it lessens the pool of resources available to the communal. Let’s give illustrations and examples of this idea. Firstly, the Netziv comments that the people who built the tower of Bavel had a cunning plan. They had seen the flood and reasoned that such destruction came about because of the anger of G-D at everyone being different. So they decided to build a tall tower from which they could supervise everyone and make sure that everyone was acting the same. And this was their grave error in quashing everyone’s individualism; so the punishment was meted out measure for measure in that they were given their own languages and thus were made different from each other. And a similar idea is expressed regarding the central positive character trait of humility; anavah. Humility does not mean ignoring one’s talents - why would HaShem have given them to you for you to ignore? Rather, humility involves the acknowledgement of Whom these talents came from and the using of them for the positive as a result. (See Rabbi Twerski’s ‘Angels Don’t Leave Footprints’ p46-47 for a list of major Rabbis who all express this point in similar terms regarding humility).
Rabbi Pinkus used to express our concept of not giving up individuality in forming the communal facet via his experience as Rav of the town of Ofakim in Southern Israel. The community was half Sefardi and half Ashkenazi, and they were building a nice new shul for the town. The idea was put forward that they should build one shul, with some Ashkenazi and some Sefardi minhagim. Rav Pinkus rejected the idea, putting forward the point that as long as it was a half-half compromise, no side would be fully happy, because it meant that both sides were giving up their uniqueness. Rather, they built two shuls in one building with a hall in between them; one was an Ashkenazi shul in strict accordance with all its customs, and the other a Sefardi shul with its customs. This way, both would be happy and there would be true unity. And Rav Pinkus says the same regarding the relationship between husband and wife; ‘bonding into one’ does not mean that she gives up what she likes and subjugates herself to his will, with him giving up what he likes and subjugating himself to make her happy. Rather, it means that both remain as individuals with their own different likes, habits, etc. but that they build a relationship together via a full expression of themselves as individuals who want to combine to make a team. To express this via a short parable; the beauty of a duet is the combination of two different voices.
Additionally, there is the concept that every Jew has their own portion in Torah, and as such every Jew is needed to express their part as a whole before the Torah can be completely reflected [apparently, the Zohar says that Yisrael stands for yesh shishim ribui osios latorah; there are 600,000 letters in the Torah - corresponding to our numbers upon leaving Egypt in that each person has their own letter in Torah to bring out to the full.] And this is one explanation of the statement in the mishna (Sanhedrin 4;5) that ‘one who loses one Jew is as if they have lost the entire world,’ for losing one Jew means that we lack the full expression of the Jewish people as a whole, and as a consequence our role in correcting the world is affected for the worse. As that same mishna says, everyone should say bishvili nivra ha’olam - that the world was created for me [to add my talents to and play my individual role in.] Or, as the Chassidishe Rebbe’im learnt this line, that a shvil is a path, and so everyone should say that ‘the world was created for my path;’ that everyone has a different path to travel on in life, with different tests and obstacles to pass, and everyone has a different role and potential in life - but everyone is needed. As the mishna in Avos (4;3) warns us, ‘do not brand any person as unimportant, (lit. do not disgrace any person),’ for everyone has their own tests and role in life, and no two people are the same. Chazal echo this by noting that ‘just like two people’s faces are never the same, so too, two people’s opinions and mindsets are not the same.’ And this individual uniqueness is not something to look down on and try to sieve out, but rather something to treasure and use to the best of one’s abilities.
Perhaps, armed with this idea we can return to our original question. We asked why does the Torah report the population numbers of each tribe and then repeat them again when discussing the encampment formations? The answer, according to what we explained above, is that the first time the numbers were told was to show that everyone had their own number unique to them; they are an individual. Then in the encampments portion, we see a new facet of the merging into the communal; three tribes camped together under one degel. And it is at that reporting of the encampments that the Torah repeats the individual numbers, to convey the message that it is this retention of individuality that enables the coming together as a unit. And this idea repeats itself within the individual encampments too. The encampments as a whole came together to make a communal synchronised formation of klal yisrael, but within these components there was still the individuality of each group of three tribes (a degel), individual tribes, and even each family with their own place in the entire structure. It is once each person occupies their own space that the entire formation of klal yisrael is complete and manifest. Have a great Shabbes,

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