The Torah is full of fascinating, unexpected and, some might say, poetic connections. Many of these associations are not obvious because they are spread throughout the many texts of Judaism. But, the sages wisely recorded them in the Midrash (a compilation of oral legends and tradition). One intriguing example is the arrangement of the camp as the Israelites traveled through the Wilderness.

There are numerous explanations for why specific tribes were grouped together and for the specific placement of the different Levite families. One Midrash in Numbers Rabbah, however, explains the specific positioning of these groups by describing the conditions of their geographic positions.

On the western side of the camp were positioned the Gershonite Levites, who were responsible for caring for the tent, its covering and the screen for the door of the Tent of Meeting. About the west, the Midrash notes that it as “the region of storehouses of snow and those of hail and cold and heat” (Numbers Rabbah 3:12).

Encamped on the south were the Levite descendants of Kehot, who bore the ark in which the Torah was held. The south, according to the Midrash, “is the source from which emanate the dew and rain and bring blessing to the world…[and] the rains depend entirely upon the observance of the Torah” (ibid.).

The north is marked as a region “from whence darkness goes forth to the world” (ibid.). Here were encamped the Merari Levites, who carried the wood, the boards of the Tabernacle, its bars and its pillars. The Midrash refers to darkness as idolatry. The Tabernacle was intended to serve as a direct counter to idolatrous impulses.

Finally, the eastern side of camp was the position of Moses and Aaron and the kohanim (priests). The Midrash declares the east to be “the source from which light goes forth into the world” (ibid.), thus correlating sunrise in the east to the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

In addition to any lessons that one might learn from this Midrashic discussion, it also provides a fascinating glimpse into the beautiful connections that one can find through the serious study of all parts of the Torah.

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