Lesson 1: Bamidbar: “Each with standards and banners”: Designing your Coat of Arms
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
“The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting [Tabernacle] at a distance.” Numbers 2:2.
In their years as an enslaved people in Egypt, the Israelites were likely to have internalized some sense of discipline and respect, even fear, of authority. Now, released from Egyptian bondage, traversing the Sinai desert on their way to the Promised Land, one might have thought they would want to let loose any remnant of their former shackles and perhaps leave some of this regimentation behind. However, once the Tabernacle was in place, the 12 tribal units took assigned places in the camps surrounding it, three tribes in each direction––north, south, east, and west––all within view of the central structure.
We are told that each tribe could be identified by their standard and banners or flags, perhaps representing its history and character. Interestingly, while each tribe seemed to retain its unique identity, even with the passage of several generations, all were positioned facing inward to the centerpiece of the Israelites’ encampment. From these encampments, all were expected to march onward with their tribal unit. There are many fascinating legends of how the Israelites came to design their banners: Did the flags’ colors match the tribes’ respective colors on the High Priest’s breastplate? Was the central design inspired by the metaphors used by Jacob as he blessed his sons on his deathbed (such as Judah, the lion and Benjamin, the wolf)? We are left to speculate.
A 20th-century commentator, the Netivot Shalom, noted, “Just as each nation and each military corps has a unique banner which denotes its special task, so too, each individual has his own banner and special task.” Whether through colors or designs, these symbols served not only to broadcast to others the tribes’ distinctive history and values but also to help the young and old integrate them into their personal identities.
Designing your Coat of Arms
A popular exercise in career workshops is designing your Coat of Arms. What can this accomplish? A coat of arms was a historical family insignia originating in the Middle Ages, often presented in battle. Its various elements signified family descent, alliances, property ownership, and profession. A traditional coat of arms often incorporates a decorative shield, helmet, wreath, and crest. In our workshops, participants were asked to design a personal coat of arms, choosing the colors and images that would best symbolize their family history, recent significant events, values and aspirations, and the occupation or career they see fit to add to it. Among the various elements, participants are encouraged to include representations of their strengths (e.g., languages, computer skills) and resources (e.g., passion, academic degrees) and how they see these factors as helping them advance their goals. Participants are asked to invest thought and creativity and produce a handiwork they would be proud to share with others.
What is your vision for your next career steps? What are some longer-term goals for your team? How do other workshop participants respond to your key messages? The individual or team is often surprised at how seemingly disparate elements combine to form an intriguing gestalt and a newly revealed identity that they are happy to share with others. When conducted in an organizational context, the coat of arms usually incorporates unique aspects of the individual (or group) but retains a link to unifying elements––such as highlighting the organization’s fundamental goals. Thus, despite the tribal differences in the desert, all were physically (and likely spiritually) oriented toward the center of the encampment, thus maintaining their link to the Tabernacle.
- We often find individuals’ career choices as a continuation or a departure (often a dramatic departure) from their family members’ occupational histories. How do you view your direction in the context of your family? How do the older generations in your family view your career direction?
- Would your current coat-of-arms design look different today than it would have been some years ago? How have your values, priorities, strengths, even your motto, changed over the years? You will likely develop new directions with time and delight in confronting new challenges in your career journey.
- Try this: How would you represent your vision graphically, looking five years ahead? Are you seeking more autonomy in your work situation (perhaps conjuring up an image of Lion King?), more family time (an image of a picnicking family or cozying around the fireplace?), more passion and purpose (teaching in a third-world classroom?), meeting more people (a cocktail party or a packed football stadium?), earning more income (dollar signs)? “All of the above” might be nice, but it may be time to prioritize your goals. What image would portray your primary goal? You may be surprised by the powerful effect of translating your thoughts into words and even graphic images. They can serve as a kind of anchor to your career plans and may even facilitate their actualization.
 Netivot Shalom (by Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky, d. 2001), quoted in Rahav-Meir, S. (2017). #Parasha: Weekly insights from a leading Israeli journalist (p. 202). Menorah.