(This article appears in the Jerusalem Post's Sukkot Supplement Edition, September 2018).
Seven Days of Creation, seven days of the week, seven visible planets. Twelve months of the year, twelve constellations, twelve Tribes. The Jewish mystical tradition perceives the connections between humanity and the starry skies to be one of mutual sympathy: that of macro and microcosm, “As above, so below.” An intriguing illustration of this principle is found in the biblical book of Numbers chapter two where the encampment of the Israelites in the desert is described in detail. During the forty years of wandering in the desert between Egypt and the Land of Canaan, they were commanded to pitch their camp in the same configuration every time.
The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.
Camped on the front, or east side: the standard of the division of Judah, troop by troop…camping next to it: the tribe of Issachar…the tribe of Zebulun…on the south: the standard of the division of Reuben, troop by troop…camping next to it: the tribe of Shimon…and the tribe of Gad…on the west: the standard of the division of Ephraim, troop by troop…next to it: Manasseh…and the tribe of Benjamin…On the north: the standard of the division of Dan, troop by troop…camping next to it: the tribe of Asher…and the tribe of Naphtali… (Numbers 2:1-29).