After detailing the census of the Jewish people in the desert, the Torah describes how the Jewish people traveled and camped in the desert. The Tabernacle and the Levites were in the center, surrounded by four camps, one on each side. Each camp consisted of three tribes, one of which was the leader of the camp.

Reading all this detail leaves the reader puzzled. TheWhy do we need to know how the tribes organized? Torah’s messages, stories and teachings are eternal, so why do we need to know precisely how the tribes organized in the desert? How is this relevant to our lives today?

We each have many aspirations and goals in our lives. We want to succeed in multiple realms simultaneously; we work to advance our career, our relationships, our health and fitness, and our values. It often seems that we struggle to keep a healthy balance between all of our sometimes conflicting aspirations. The story of the tribes organizing and traveling in the desert is the story of our life. We too should organize and prioritize our values on our figurative journey through the often complicated desert en route to the Promised Land.

The four camps of tribes symbolize the four general pursuits we value: (1) wisdom, (2) character, (3) physical strength and health, and (4) wealth. The order in which the Torah places the four camps tells us that they are all critical, yet we must remember the hierarchy of their importance. The first camp, east of the Tabernacle, led by the tribe of Judah, embodied wisdom. The second camp, south of the Tabernacle, led by Reuben, embodied humility and good character. The third camp, on the west side, led by the tribe of Ephraim, embodied physical strength. And the fourth camp, led by Dan, on the north side, embodied wealth. (See the Kli Yakar for a detailed analysis of how each tribe embodied its own particular quality.)

Naturally, these values will conflict and undermine each other. Too much of one will take away from the focus on the other. Some of these values are more spiritual and abstract, while others are more physical and concrete; thus, appreciating the value of one may lead to underemphasizing the other. The lesson is that in order for these values to create a wholesome life, they must be organized around the Sanctuary, the house of the Torah. Our core, the center of our own personal figurative camp, is the Torah. Wisdom, good character, health and wealth are all valuable and must be pursued because they are the means by which we express the Torah and its teachings. Once these values are not an end unto themselves but rather a means to express a deeper, unified value, they can coexist peacefully, each enhancing the other, creating harmony and serenity in our life.