In the beginning of this week's parsha, Hashem instructs Moshe to take a census of Bnei Yisrael in order to find out the population of each shevet. The census, according to the very first pasuk, took place about a year after they left Mitzrayim, on the first day of the second month of the second year after Yetziyat Mitzrayim. After the census was complete, Hashem gave instructions concerning where each shevet should camp around the Mishkan.
Then Hashem said that each shevet should have its own degel with "otot" or signs on it. Rashi says in his first p'shat that these signs were that the degel of each shevet was colored according to the shade of its stone on the choshen. Other mefarshim say that the signs were various symbols that somehow related to that shevet, for example, Yehuda's degel had a line on it representing kingship. Yissachar's degel had the sun and moon, representing their great Torah knowledge, and Zevulun's degel had a ship, representing its success in business and sea trade. In other words, these degalim represent each shevet's unique strengths and approach in serving Hashem.
Some mefarshim ask the following question: It seems from these psukim that the special formations and positions in which each shevet camped, as well as their unique dagalim, were only used beginning with the first day of the second month of the second year after yetziyat Mitzrayim. This begs the question that if so, how did Bnei Yisrael camp during the entire first year after yetziyat Mitzrayim?
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt"l, in his sefer called Emet L'Yaakov, offers the following beautiful insight. Rav Kaminetsky claims that during this first year Bnei Yisrael had to camp all together in one large group and without their special individualized degalim. Why should this be? He explains that it is essential to have our own individuality and uniqueness, but this is not without danger. It is quite possible for this uniqueness to lead us away from each other since we are so different. It could even lead to jealousy, machloket, or bad feelings. What is the way around this?
When we all share a similar focus and a common goal, our differences and uniqueness work to our advantage, since we complement each other and help each other reach that common goal. For Bnei Yisrael, the focus and goal is serving Hashem in bringing down his Shechina to dwell among us, as represented by the Mishkan. So when the Mishkan was set up at the end of the first year we had our focus and common goal. The Mishkan became the center of our lives and we all camped around it. Our individuality and different approaches to serving Hashem no longer posed any danger. We were all working together, much like different parts of the same body. Can the eyes be jealous of the ears, or the arms jealous of the legs?
Perhaps this is why Parshat Bamidbar always falls before Shavuot. As a reminder that our receiving the Torah is what unites us as a nation. We are all individual instruments, playing our own unique melodies, and it is our shared Torah values which create the harmony in the symphony of the Jewish people.