Kenneth Cohen

Desert Flags

The Torah gives a description of the דגלים, or flags, that were used by the tribes when they traveled. The purpose of these flags was to demonstrate to the world that “the name of Hashem is upon the Jewish people.”

The Keli Yakar connects a rabbinic statement made regarding the prerequisites for the Divine Presence resting upon an individual. He must possess four qualities, in order for this to happen. He must be wise, wealthy, mighty, and humble. Humility implies possessing מידות טובות, or good character.

The twelve tribes were divided into groups of three, with each group having its particular leader. The flags indicated that these traits existed on a national level, with each group possessing one of these four qualities.

The flag of Yehuda, accompanied by Yissasschar and Zevulun, were typified by their חכמה, wisdom. Many great scholars emerged from these tribes.

The flag of Reuven, joined by Shimon and Gad, were known for their good character. We see this when Reuven confessed and repented with the incident of Bilha.

The flag of Efraim, together with Menashe and Binyamin, were known for their bravery and strength. It was not only physical abilities, but it was depicted by their courage and leadership. Joshua was from the tribe of Efraim.

The gift of wealth was given to the flag of Dan, and supported by Naftali and Asher. The area of Asher was very fruitful, and was the source for the olive oil used in the Beit Hamikdash. This explains why many Kohanim chose the women of Asher as their wives. They probably met while acquiring the finest olive oil.

The Jewish people are a remarkable nation possessing very special qualities. The travels via the flags made it clear that there is no nation on earth, like the nation of Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at