Color-Coded Conquest

Numbers Hizkuni: Bamidbar

Color-Coded Conquest

Recreation of Tribal Flags
Recreation of Tribal Flags

Seasoned world-conquerors know that there is a tactical advantage in the early conquest of the small purple-colored continent of Australia. In the popular board game “Risk”, it’s an almost guaranteed two extra armies per turn with only one border to protect.

The “Risk” board is an excellent introduction to general world geography if not military geo-politics (“never fight a land war in Asia”). While some of its “countries” have little relation to modern divisions (Irkutzk?), a few of them have been impressively prescient (who remembers playing when Ukraine was still an undistinguishable part of the Soviet Union?).

Modern maps and globes are often a patchwork quilt of multicolored entities, their land-masses clearly visible thanks to contrasting colors. It wasn’t always so. Millennia ago maps were mostly boring monochromatic parchments with sketches of whales filling up the seas. The Israelite nation was apparently the first to introduce color as a distinguishing characteristic between physical locations.

More recreated Tribal Flags
More recreated Tribal Flags

In the beginning of the Book of Numbers, the number, position and leadership of each tribe is given. Rabbi Yaakov ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that the Israelite nation was the first to use color coding for their tribal flags and to demark their domain. Hizkuni further explains that the nations of the world learned this practice from Israel and transferred the practice to cartography as well.

Therefore, France is a different color than Germany and yet a different color than Spain all because of the flags of the twelve tribes of Israel.

May we be happy with the flags we bear, and if not, switch colors quickly.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach,



To the movie “Invictus”. Highly recommended and highly moving. It shows the value of sticking to your colors.

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