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    The right neighbourhood – B’midbar

    Holbein's Tribes of Israel, 16th century

    In their comments on the sidra B’midbar, the sages offer an ethical analysis of the layout of the camp of Israel in the wilderness.

    The Levites took up the centre block and around them were placed the Israelites in four groups of three tribes. In the east were Judah, Issachar and Z’vulun, just outside the families of Moses and Aaron.

    Possibly because these three tribes had such neighbours they were inspired to become great leaders, judges and scholars in later history. “It is well with the righteous, and well with his neighbour,” says Rashi (on Num. 3:38), quoting the sages.

    The tribe of Reuben, on the other hand, were not so fortunately placed. They were adjacent to the family of K’hat, from whose midst arose the rebellion of Korach. Maybe because of this, the Reubenites did not make such a great contribution to later history. “Woe to the wicked, and woe to his neighbour,” say the rabbis, in words quoted by Rashi on Num. 3:29.

    Sometimes a neighbourhood is just not right for you, even today. When looking for a house it is not just a question of “location, location, location”. An even more important criterion is “environment, environment, environment”.

    It’s not merely, “Who am I?” but “Who is my neighbour?”

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