HaShem described to Moshe how the tribes’ camps should be positioned. In the center of all the camps was the Mishkan itself – which was called the Camp of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).
The tribe of Levi – including Moshe and Aharon’s families – surrounded the Mishkan. This was called the Camp of the Levi’im, and it was the position of the highest honor.
The rest of the tribes were arranged on all 4 sides of the Levi’im. This was called Machaneh Yisrael, the Camp of the Jewish People.
Borders between the camps and the tribes were created by a network of streams that flowed from a well of water, called “Miriam’s Well.” It miraculously followed Bnei Yisrael through the desert in the merit of Moshe’s sister, Miriam.
HaShem told Moshe exactly where the tribes should be camped, “On the east side – the camps of the tribes of Yehudah, Yissachar, and Zevulun. On the south side – Reuven, Shimon, and Gad. On the west side – Efrayim, Menashe, and Binyamin. And on the north side – Dan, Asher, and Naftali.”
This is the order in which their camps were arranged and Bnei Yisrael followed this same order when they traveled through the desert.
Moshe was a bit worried. “I sure hope that there won’t be any fighting amongst the 12 tribes,” he thought to himself. “I could well imagine that each tribe will try to position themselves in the best place possible.”
But Moshe had nothing to worry about. It was a well-known fact, handed down from generation to generation, that Bnei Yisrael’s camping position would be exactly way the 12 tribes carried Yaakov’s coffin:
Yehudah, Yissachar, and Zevulun stood on the east side of the coffin; Reuven, Shimon, and Gad on the south side; Efrayim, Menashe, and Binyamin on the west side; and Dan, Asher, and Naftali on the north side.
And how did they know to position themselves like that?
Simple. Yaakov instructed them to do so before he passed away.