צַב: covered carriage, turtle
צְבִי: deer, desire, splendor
צָבָה: to swell
ה’ צְבָא-וֹת: Lord of legions
מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה כָּל יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם From twenty years and upwards, all who go out to the army in Yisrael, you shall count them according to their legions.
What does it mean to be part of Hashem’s army? By exploring the following related words, we can come to a better understanding of what it means to be privileged to be in Hashem’s army.
צַב: Covered Carriage, Turtle
The Rashbam, in his commentary to Parshas Naso, describes the צַב/covered carriage as something that was made for the army to cover long distances. In order to do this, it must have been made very sturdy, and the specific mention to it being covered points to the צַב being one of the earliest armored cars, something like the modern-day tank.
The word הַצַב mentioned in the Torah (in Vayikra 11:29) is attributed to the turtle. Although there is no clear mesorah/tradition to this fact in the Talmud, it should come as no surprise that the turtle, with its protective shell, is connected to this idea of being like an armored tank.
צְבִי: Deer, Desire, Splendor
The land of Eretz Yisrael is known as אֶרֶץ צְבִי/the land of desire, because all the goyim desire a piece of the action, since this is the land where the Divine Presence is found.
צָבָה: To Swell
With regards to the Sotah woman, when she drinks the water, it says וְאֶת בִּטְנֵךְ צָבָה/her stomach swells.
We now have three definitions of צַב to help us define more clearly the function of the צָבָא /army:
צַב/armored, צְבִי/desire, and צָבָה/swell. The army functions in one of three ways: to protect, to pursue one’s desire, and to expand one’s borders.
Naturally, when we think of the army, we envision war, but the opposite is also true: the army can instill a state of peace. When the army fulfills its task of protecting, it also acts as a deterrent against one’s enemies, leaving the country in a state of peace.
Theצָבָא /army in the midbar/wilderness in general functioned in a peaceful way; only with the conquest of the land did it take on the role of pursuing one’s desire, namely the desired Holy Land. In later years, under the rulerships of King David and King Solomon, the army took on the function of expanding its borders.
ה’ צְבָא-ות : Lord of Legions
In order for an army to be successful, it must follow the will and directives of one leader.
On Friday night we say in kiddush: וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם/[on the seventh day] the heavens, the Earth, and all the heavenly legions were completed. Hashem is also known as ה’ צְבָא-ות/Lord of legions, i.e., the heavenly legions and the earthly legions. The heavenly legions comprise the angels, sun, moon, and stars, and the earthly legions specifically refer to the tribes of the Bnei Yisrael.
Chazal tell us that all the wars in the world are first fought out in the heavenly realm. What we see in the earthly realm is just a reflection of what occurs in the heavenly realm. Just like the heavenly hosts surround the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Holy Throne above, so too the Bnei Yisrael below surround the Mishkan and the Shechinah.
The first stage of the army, as we mentioned above, is for protection. So what are we protecting? Like with any kingship, there is the palace, the palace guards, and the army that surround the palace. So too the camp in the midbar was split up into three sectors: the Israelite camp, the Levite camp, and the camp of the Shechinah. The Levites, who were closer to Hashem, served as the palace guards, and their job was to protect the people from drawing too close, for one who draws too close to the Shechinah dies.
וְשָׁמְרוּ הַלְוִיִּם אֶת מִשְׁמֶרֶת מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדוּת And the Levi’im will guard the watches of the Mishkan of Testimony.
Just like the Levi’im are on guard duty below, so too הַכּוֹכָבִים בְּמִשְׁמְרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּרָקִיעַ/the stars are on watch in the sky.
When standing on guard duty, the army stands at attention. The words נִיצַב/standing and מַצַב/position are related to צָבָא/army in the following way: When Eliezer is sent to choose a bride for Yitzchak, he stood by the spring, and in Yaakov’s dream Hashem is standing upon the ladder. In both instances it is not just an ordinary standing, but rather a standing that has purpose in position to something. Likewise, when we feel strongly about something, we use the terminology of “standing for one’s principles.” So too the army, when it is in a state of מִשְׁמֹר/guarding, it stands at attention, i.e., with strength and conviction. Similarly, a מַצֵבָה/matzeivah/tombstone is a stone that has been designated as a monument to stand upon the grave.
In order for the army to succeed, everyone must know his place. The army is made up of the צִיבּוּר/the community. Although it is one community, it is subdivided into groups, each with its own תַּפְקִיד/purpose. Just like a regular army is split into divisions of infantry, cavalry, navy, air force, etc., so too Hashem’s army is comprised of different tribes, each with its own flag, distinctive color, and position around the camp, where each tribe had its own mission.
Although each tribe had its own unique צֶבַע/color, corresponding to the colored stones of the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate, everyone still had a common uniform. The Midrash says that one of the four reasons why the Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Mitzrayim was because they didn’t change their dress. The Jew is easily distinguished from the goyim through his dress. If we don’t wear the uniform, it is a sign that we are assimilated, and, evidently, we would never have left Mitzrayim. In order for an army to be successful, one must have a uniform, for the uniform helps to divest oneself of one’s individual identity that otherwise causes separation and instead allows one to become part of the whole.
Once we know our place in the army, we can then move on to the second stage of pursuing a desire. Hashem’s desire was for us to conquer the Land of Israel, define its borders, and restore the Shechinah to its proper place in Yerushalayim in the Beis HaMikdash, which, being at the center of the universe, functions to reunite heaven and earth. Once Hashem would be in His proper place, and once there would be a connection between heaven and earth, then there would also be a greater connection between the Heavenly hosts and the physical army below.
We are now ready for the third stage, the expansion of borders, as was seen with King David and King Solomon. The purpose of expansion is to bring the ultimate goal of spreadingעֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם /the yoke of Hashem’s heavenly kingship to this earthly realm. This is the ultimate goal of creation, as we say: בַּיום הַהוּא יִהְיֶה ה’ אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד/on that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one.
So where do we stand in Hashem’s army? Do we concede to a higher force? Do we follow orders without question? Are we aware of our position? What are we protecting? What are we fighting for (eternity)? Are we trained in using our weapons of combat? What are our weapons of combat? Who is our enemy (our ego, the yetzer hara)? What are we willing to die for? Do we desire what Hashem desires?
If we want to be part of Hashem’s master plan of world sovereignty and be successful as an army, then it is imperative that we follow orders. Hashem’s army is therefore comprised only of tzaddikim, the ones who follow His directives. Anyone on the frontline who was scared that his sins might cause him to be killed in battle was ordered to leave. For this reason, anyone below the age of twenty was not yet considered to be army material in that he wasn’t equipped with a mature seichel to be able to conquer his yetzer hara. So we learn from here that in order to be victorious on the battle field, we first have to be victorious over our inner struggle. Only after we have done battle with our egos and have divested ourselves of our selfish identities can we succeed in losing our individuality and become part of the whole. Then, having broken down the barriers separating us from our Father in Heaven, we truly become worthy of being בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה’/Hashem’s children and can move on to the higher goal of being in Dad’s army.
1 Bamidbar 1:3.
2 Chullin 127a.
3 Metzudas David to Yirmiyahu 3–19.
4 See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to Bereishis 2:1.
5 Bamidbar 1:53.
6 Rabbi Hirsch to Bereishis 28:13; see also Rabbeinu Bechaya.
7 Rabbi Hirsch to Bereishis 2:1.
8 Midrash Lekach Tov, Pesikta Zutrasa, Shemos 6:6.
9 Kli Yakar to Bamidbar 1:3.