The first Torah portion of the Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, is usually read the week before Shavuot. Therefore, it also falls in close proximity to Jerusalem Day, which occurs a week earlier. Jerusalem Day commemorates the day during the 1967 Six Day War when Jewish rule returned to the unified holy city for the first time in almost two thousand years. The flags or banners mentioned in this portion – “Every man by his banner, with the insignia of their father’s house … they shall camp” (Numbers 2:2) – allude to Jerusalem Day in several beautiful ways.
The Torah relates that the tribes camped “every man by his flag.” The numerical value of the Hebrew word for flag or banner (degel) is thirty-seven, the same as the numerical value of the Hebrew phrase “the heart” (halev). Since antiquity Jerusalem has been termed “the heart” of the Jewish people, the place that most symbolizes the Jewish nation’s collective purpose and mission. The reunification of Jerusalem truly captured the collective imagination of the Jewish people, as many of the prophecies of old predicting this awesome event were fulfilled.
Furthermore, according to Chassidic teachings, the flags in the desert represent the individual’s deepest longing for meaning and purpose in life – his or her heartfelt desire. The phrase “his flag” (diglo) has the numerical value of forty-three, the very day in the counting of the omer that Jerusalem was reunited. On this day the Jewish people as individuals and as a collective consciousness regained their hearts’ desire.
In the Song of Songs (2:4) the following verse appears: “He brought me to the house of wine and his banner over me was love.” The Sages read the entire book of Song of Songs as a Divinely inspired allegory symbolizing the love between God (the lover) and the Jewish people (the beloved). However, “the house of wine,” in this verse, has been interpreted in several different ways. The Sages interpreted it as either an allegory for the Holy Temple or the Torah. Thus, even though the verse is written in the past tense, it can be read as a prayer that God bring us to His Third Temple and fulfill us with His Torah. Furthermore, since the Hebrew word for “wine” has the numerical value of seventy, the verse has also been read to allude to the seventy archetypal nations that were welcomed in the first two Temples. Thus, this verse in Song of Songs can also be read as a prayer that God usher in the era when His love will encircle us and flutter above us like a beautiful banner and all the peoples of the earth will recognize and praise Him. Indeed, the Third Temple is actually called “a House of Prayer for all Peoples” (Isaiah 56:7), for it will be built in the Messianic era when all nations will come to worship God in true fellowship.
The Torah often plays on the numerical equivalency between the Hebrew word for “wine” (yayin) and the Hebrew word for secret (sod). Thus, in a play on words, the Sages taught: “When wine goes in – the secret comes out” (Eruvin 65a). This equivalency also leads to wine oftentimes symbolizing the sod, the secrets of the Torah. This correspondence is alluded to in the second verse of Song of Songs: “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for they are sweeter than wine.” “Kisses of his mouth” alludes to the deep secrets of the Torah that when revealed to the Jewish soul, bring about the most intimate closeness between God and Israel. This spiritual “wine” is sweeter than any physical pleasure this world can offer. Thus, God bringing us into his “house of wine” can also allude to His returning us to Jerusalem, for the prophets prophesied that “Torah will come out of Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). At that time “the knowledge of God will fill the world like the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
Jerusalem from time immemorial has been the heart of the Jewish people. A request for its rebuilding is included in our prayers three times a day and all Jews, no matter where in the world, face Jerusalem to pray. Jerusalem not only represents the Jewish people’s deepest longings but also has always been our capital city. It is the flag by which every Jew camps and in the future it will take on this role for all humanity.