I can vividly recall standing around in the ever-bustling Penn Station in the Big Apple several years ago, waiting for the No. 3 train to take me and my mammoth suitcase to Crown Heights. I had a minor headache, and was not really feeling like myself. I looked forward to just getting home.

There I stood, suitcase in hand, wearing my black hat and jacket, learning something from the Torah, until my train finally rolled up.

But as I was about to board the train, a middle-aged man exited the train and immediately approached me. “I’m a Jew,” he said. I figured that he was letting me know this because a part of him wanted to be more connected to his Jewishness.

“Do you want to put on tefillin now?” I asked him. It took some persistence on my part, but the Almighty arranged things to go His way, and I helped this fine Jew don tefillin right then and there, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the station.

As the train I had impatiently waited for rolled on past me and the consequence of my action kicked in, I had absolutely no feelings of remorse. In fact, I felt proud of the choice I had made, and proud that I was a Jew and displayed it publicly—even in a place where that may have looked strange.

I realized that had I not exhibited my Jewishness openly on the Manhattan platform, perhaps that man wouldn’t have put on tefillin that day, and I wouldn’t have had the privilege of assisting him in doing so.

You’ve Got to Represent!

When we learn the portion of Bamidbar, we find the arrangement of the twelve tribes in the Jewish encampment in the wilderness:

G‑d spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: The children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his division, with the flagstaffs of their fathers’ house; some distance from the Tent of Meeting they shall encamp.1

Rashi explains to us what exactly these “flagstaffs” were:

Every division shall have its own flagstaff, with a colored flag hanging on it, the color of one being different from the color of any other.

The tribes were split into four groups of three, and each had a flag representing its respective group. The four groups were stationed on all four sides of the Mishkan, with the Mishkan and the sanctified tribe of Levi positioned in their center. They camped and traveled in this formation.2

Leading the way was the legion of Yehudah, which was stationed on the east side, along with the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun. On the south of the Mishkan was the camp of Reuven, together with Shimon and Gad. On the west side was the legion of Ephraim, along with Menashe and Binyamin. Finally, in the rear, on the north side, was the encampment of Dan, together with Asher and Naftali.3

Every family had its own standard which it wished to live up to. Each group had a tremendous amount of pride in its pedigree.

To demonstrate their commitment and pride, they placed their flags, waving high and proud, right in the midst of their encampments.

Be a Fan

We’ve all seen (or perhaps are ourselves) avid sports fans. The diehard devotees who show up at every one of their team’s games wearing their team paraphernalia, cheering on their boys at the top of their lungs, waving flags, banners and rally towels, ever so proudly displaying their connection to their team. Even when these passionate supporters aren’t at the ballpark or arena, they still don their team gear. Wherever they go, everyone around them instantly knows exactly who they root for and where their heart is at.

When we learn about the tribal flags, the Torah is teaching us to be “fans” of what we believe in, just like when we passionately waved our flags in the desert, displaying who we were and where we belonged.

Today as well, no matter what the circumstances are, we are Jews. Even if the rockets glare and the bombs are bursting in air—we must make certain that our flag is still there!4

Off-Broadway Show

Sometime during the 1950s, the legendary chassid Rabbi Yochanan Gordon was running some errands in Manhattan. As he walked down the street, he suddenly caught sight of a long line of people excitedly waiting for something.

Assuming there was a good reason for the line, he patiently lined up as well.

As soon as he got in line, the woman standing in front of him asked rhetorically in Yiddish, Rebbe, ihr oichet!?” (“Rabbi, you too!?”)

Unbeknownst to him, the line he had hastily joined was actually a line to a theater! All those people were waiting to watch a show, and along came this distinguished-looking rabbi, sporting a long white beard, to join in! How strange that must have appeared.

He later remarked regarding this episode, “Mayn bord hot mir geratevet” (“My beard saved me”). The fact that he proudly displayed his Jewishness through his outward appearance saved him from entering a place he would not have stepped foot into.

So let us all wave that flag—the banner of our religion—like we mean it. Let us be real fans, fans of our essential identity, fans who remain true to ourselves. As the ever-pertinent camp song goes, “I’m a Jew and I’m proud, and I’ll sing it out loud!”

May we merit the fulfillment of the prayer that we say three times daily: “Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.” And may we merit the coming of Moshiach, when we will all see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “He shall raise a banner to the nations, and He shall gather the lost ones of Israel, and the scattered ones of Judah He shall gather from the four corners of the earth.”5