The Midrash (Bamibdar Rabba 2:2), as we cited earlier this week, relates that at the time of Matan Torah, Benei Yisrael saw legions of angels with special flags that accompanied God when He descended upon Mount Sinai. Benei Yisrael envied the angels, the Midrash tells, and desired to have flags, too. God granted their wish, and, as we read in Parashat Bamidbar (2:2), He commanded that each tribe should have its own special flag.
Many different approaches have been taken to explain the significance of the flags, and why Benei Yisrael so strongly desired flags like the angels. One possibility, perhaps, is that the flags represent pride in one’s identity and mission. A nation’s flag, for example, serves as a proud symbol of the nation’s unique, distinctive identity, and this is true as well of flags used by groups or movements. When Benei Yisrael saw the angels with their flags, they envied the way each angel took pride in its unique, distinctive mission. As perfect, unflawed beings, which reside in the heavens and are assigned roles directly by the Almighty, the angels could all take pride in their unique identity and the distinctive role assigned to them. Many among Benei Yisrael felt that they could not experience this sense of pride – just as many of us feel we cannot experience pride, because we feel ashamed of our mission and role in the world. Some people are forced to spend a great of their time struggling to scrap out a living, doing menial jobs that they see as undignified. Some people are beset by health problems or family problems that occupy much of their time or sap their physical energy, preventing them from realizing outstanding achievements. Some people have made grave mistakes that cause them a great deal of anguish and caused problems which they now need to solve. Many of us do not feel particularly proud or gratified over the role or task we now need to fill, and we find ourselves feeling envious of the “angels” we see around us, those who fills roles that seem far more respectable and dignified.
God responded to Benei Yisrael by assuring them that each and every tribe has its flag. Symbolically, this might mean that each and every one of us can rightfully take pride in whatever position or situation in which we currently find ourselves. Whichever task we now need to fill, we should take pride in working to fill it to the best of our ability. We have no reason to envy the “angels,” those outwardly “perfect” people who seem to always be doing impressive things. We each have our own individual “flag” – a role to fill in which we should take pride, if we approach it seriously and are committed to filling it as best we can.