In the Sinai Desert, Hashem says to conduct a census of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moshe counts 603,550 men of draftable age (20 to 60 years); the tribe of Levi, numbering 22,300 males age one month and older, is counted separately. The Leviim are to serve in the Sanctuary, replacing the firstborn, whose number they approximated, who were disqualified when they participated in the serving of the Golden Calf. The 273 firstborn who lacked a Levite to replace them had to pay a five-shekel “ransom” to redeem themselves.
When the people broke camp, the three Levite clans dismantled and transported the Sanctuary, and reassembled it at the center of the next encampment. They then erected their own tents around it: The Kohathites, who carried the Sanctuary’s vessels (the Ark, menorah, etc.) in their specially designed coverings on their shoulders, camped to its south; the Gershonites, in charge of its tapestries and roof coverings, to its west; and the families of Merari, who transported its wall panels and pillars, to its north. Before the Sanctuary’s entranceway, to its east, were the tents of Moshe, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons.
Beyond the Leviim circle, the twelve tribes camped in four groups of three tribes each. To the east were Yehuda (pop. 74,600), Issachar (54,400) and Zevulun (57,400); to the south, Reuven (46,500), Shimon (59,300) and Gad (45,650); to the west, Efrayim (40,500), Menashe (32,200) and Binyamin (35,400); and to the north, Dan (62,700), Asher (41,500) and Naftali (53,400). This formation was kept also while traveling. Each tribe had its own nassi (prince or leader), and its own flag with its tribal color and emblem.
Shavous - Shoot for the Stars
Like every holiday on the Jewish calendar, we don't merely commemorate Shavous, but we re-live it. As we say during davening, it is "the time of the giving of our Torah". We're not merely saying "We received the Torah today!" as if it were the Fourth of July, but rather we are re-accepting it just as our ancestors did 3300 years ago at Sinai.
The question could be asked: How, on our low level, can we possibly accept the Torah as our fathers and mothers did so long ago. Then, they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai and saw open miracles. The revelation was unparalleled in history. While, we on the other hand, are so far away from that level. How can we accept Torah as they did?
Rav Eliyahu Dessler answers the question. As we know, the two sets of luchos (tablets) given to Moshe were quite different from one another. The first set was "from G-d". They were "made in heaven" and represented the spiritual level of the Jewish nation at that particular time. After the Golden Calf Incident, and the subsequent destruction of the luchos by Moshe, Hashem gave us a second set. However, Hashem told Moshe that HE himself had to make them. Just as the new luchos were made of earthly material, so too was their new spiritual level.
What was the difference between the two? The Gemara (Avodah Zorah 5a) tells us that had we remained strong, instead of giving in to the Golden Calf episode, we would have been worthy to receive the Torah on the appropriate level: that of the first set. With that, we would have been completely free of the power of evil and even of death itself. However, since we did give in, we received the Torah on a substandard level and have a constant uphill battle to learn and keep the Torah. Quite a bit of difference.
What happened to the remaining pieces of the first set? They were place in the Aron (Ark) along with the new set. Asks, Rav Dessler, if the first luchos represented a now impossible spiritual level to attain, what is the point of keeping them together with the second luchos in the Aron?
The lesson says Rav Dessler, is that a person should always set his goals for the top.Or as the old saying goes: "Aim for the stars... the worst that happens is that you land on the Moon"
When Hashem told Moshe to make the second luchos He told him to make them "like the first" (Shemos 34:1). But still, how can both levels be comparable.
We must realize that although we will not be seeing and hearing thunder and lightening this Shavous, we still have a way of achieving some degree of that original level.
When we are determined to accept Torah fully and to put our full effort into living a life of Torah and mitzvos, then we are comparable to the previous generation and the first luchos. Perhaps we cannot reach their actual spiritual level, but we can attain the level of desire that they originally had.