The book of Bamidbar begins with a count of the Jewish people, followed by a separate count of the tribe of Levi. The Torah then goes on to explain the groupings of the tribes and the specifics of their encampments as they travel together through the wilderness. After describing the location of each tribe in the formation, the Torah states:
"ונסע אהל מועד...בתוך המחנות"
(The tent of meeting…shall travel in the middle of the camps).
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein comments on the significance of the placement of the Tabernacle, which houses the Aron Kodesh containing the Luchot, in the center of the nation’s encampment. Rabbi Feinstein explains that the Torah must be located at an equal distance to each tribe, no closer to one than another, and likens it to the human heart that is centrally located in the body.
This statement provides two insights into each individual’s relationship to the Torah. Firstly, like the heart that provides life-sustaining oxygen to all of the limbs and organs in the human body, so too does the Torah provide the spiritual sustenance that, as Jews, we cannot live without.
Secondly, the Aron Kodesh was placed in the center of the camp to symbolize that the Torah is available and accessible to everyone. No one individual has more of a claim to the Torah and its eternal heritage than any other Jew. It is our equal share in the strength of the Torah that unites us all as a nation.
In the days leading up to Shvauot, the anniversary of the revelation at Sinai, when the entire nation encamped as “one man with one heart,” this lesson is most poignant. We each have an equal share in our precious heritage and we each need the Torah to live and grow as Jews. It is our responsibility to utilize the Torah ourselves and to share it with the next generation.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Don Pacht