All for One and One for All
אך את מטה לוי לא תפקד ואת ראשם לא תשא בתוך בני ישראל
“But you shall not count the tribe of Levi, and you shall not take a census of them among the Children of Israel.” (Bamidbar 1:49)
This week we begin the book of Bamidbar, which begins with a census of the Jewish nation. Rashi explains that the purpose of these frequent counts was to demonstrate G-d’s love for us. He counted the Jews after they left Egypt, and again after the sin of the Golden Calf to know how many of them remained. As G-d prepared to rest His Divine presence among them in the Tabernacle, He counted them yet again.
However, G-d stressed to Moses that he should not count the Levites when performing this census, as they were instead counted separately. This is difficult to understand. If the Levites were the tribe that performed the service inside of the Tabernacle and the entire purpose of the census was in honor of G-d coming to dwell inside of the Tabernacle, they surely should have been included in this count.
Rashi explains that G-d wanted them counted separately because He knew that everybody who was part of the general census would die in the wilderness as a result of the sin of the spies. Since the Levites had demonstrated their tremendous piety and loyalty in refusing to take part in the worship of the Golden Calf and in punishing the transgressors, G-d wanted to spare them from this fate and insisted that they be counted alone.
This concept is also difficult to understand. Why was it necessary to count the Levites separately in order to protect them? If they didn’t take part in the sin of the spies, why would they have been punished together with the other Jews simply by virtue of the fact that they were counted together with them?
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz (1902-1978) explains that although the Levites were righteous, there are times when, difficult as it may be for us to comprehend, G-d judges not only individuals but also communities. In this case, G-d knew that there would be a judgment made against the entire Jewish nation for the sin of the spies. The decree would mandate that anybody who was part of the community, as defined by the recently-conducted census, would be punished together with them. The only way for the Levites to be spared was for them to be counted alone, which would define them as an independent community and spare them from the decree.
Rabbi Shmuelevitz adds that fortunately, this attribute of G-d’s justice works for the good as well. When a person is part of a larger community of righteous individuals, he is able to benefit from their cumulative merits. This may protect him even if his own merits are insufficient.
Rabbi Shmuelevitz led the flight of the Mir yeshiva across Europe and Asia during the Holocaust. He stressed to the students the importance of sticking together during this horrible period of Divine judgment. In spite of the tremendous national suffering which struck the Jews during that period, the Mir yeshiva and its entire student body escaped completely intact and virtually unscathed.
Although the census of each of the tribes may seem like historical trivia with no application to our daily lives, Rabbi Shmuelevitz teaches us that this isn’t the case. It teaches us that if we affiliate ourselves with a righteous community, becoming part of our synagogue and volunteering to help with communal organizations, we will benefit from their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy health, happiness, and all good blessings.
Profiting From the Sale that Never Went Through
ויעשו בני ישראל ככל אשר צוה יהוה את משה כן עשו
“And the children of Israel did according to all that the L-rd had commanded Moses, thus did they do.” (Bamidbar, 1:54)”
A quick review of this verse presents an obvious question: Why does the verse twice tell us that the Jewish people did as G-d told Moses?
“If a person contemplated fulfilling a mitzvah, and was prevented from performing it, G-d credits him as if he had fulfilled it” (Kiddushin 40A). This is something unique to spiritual practice. In the physical world, if one contemplated buying a stock but was prevented from doing so, he wouldn’t miraculously find his bank account filled with profits from the sale that never went through. If one planned on planting flowers in time for the growing season but couldn’t, the flowers won’t bloom out of thin air. In the spiritual world, however, if one truly intended to do something but was somehow prevented from bringing his intent to fruition, G-d considers it as if it were done.
The reason for this is that “Rachmana liba ba’i”—“the Compassionate One [G-d] wants our heart” (Zohar, Ki Teitzeh181B). G-d does not want automatons who perform mitzvot by rote. He wants passionate souls, people whose only desire is to do the right thing. It is not simply our actions, but the meaning behind them. In fact, often the meaning is more valuable than the action. Someone who has all the right intentions and strives to do the right thing is worthy of reward even if in the end he is prevented from doing the deed.
Based on this unique system, the Alshich commentary teaches us that we are doubly rewarded every time we do a mitzvah: once for the intent and, and once for actually doing it!
This concept helps explain the difficulty with the passage cited above. Even though the Jews only did once what G-d told Moses to command them, G-d considered it as if they did it twice. The verse then would read, “And the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses [in thought], thus did they do [in action].”
Shimon Ha’amsuni spent his entire professional career researching a certain legal concept and had compiled a magnum opus detailing hundreds of applications of this concept. For years he applied his theory until he was confronted with a seemingly minor detail that completely derailed the whole theory. Realizing his error, he picked up and walked away from his entire life’s work. (Imagine a professor today walking away from 20 years of research because one small detail seemed to contradict his theory!)
His students asked him what would become of the hundreds of legal applications he had devised. He answered, “The same way I was rewarded for my expositions, I will be rewarded for walking away from them.” He understood that G-d recognized his passionate search for the truth, and that even if years of his work would end up not bearing fruit, it was just as valuable in G-d’s eyes.
This idea helps us recognize the value of making a sincere commitment to taking spiritual growth steps, and not to allow the fear of failure to stop us. As long as we make the appropriate commitment, our success has already begun.
ואלה תולדת אהרן ומשה ביום דבר יהוה את משה בהר סיני
“These are the descendants of Aharon and Moses, on the day that G-d spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai” (Bamidbar 3:1).
This week’s parsha, Bamidbar, talks about the different censuses that took place in the second year of the Jewish nation’s sojourn in the wilderness. There are two separate censuses that are mentioned in our parsha. The first one counted the entire Jewish people, except for the tribe of Levi, and the second one counted the tribe of Levi. Before describing the census of the Levites, the Torah briefly discusses their genealogy:
“These are the descendants of Aaron and Moses, on the day that G-d spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai” (Bamidbar 3:1).
Rashi points out that although the verse only proceeds to mention the sons of Aaron, they are referred to as Moses’ sons as well, because Moses taught them Torah. This idea is rooted in the Talmudic adage (Sanhedrin, 19a), stating that “one who teaches another’s son Torah is considered as if he fathered him.”
Rashi further notes that the verse’s concluding words, “On the day that G-d spoke to Moses,” imply that they became his descendants on that day because he (eventually) taught them what he had learned on that day.
The idea that Moses became their ‘father’ on the day he first received the teaching from G-d is inspiring but seems premature. Why would Moses be referred to as their father before he actually taught them G-d’s commandments? Seemingly, it would have been more accurate for the Torah to say, “These are the descendants of Aaron and Moses, on the day that Moses spoke the word of G-d to them!”
The author of Nachal Eliyahu uses this seeming inconsistency to convey the idea that teachers do not begin their job when they start teaching, but rather when they study the material themselves. A person who intends to teach something to others must learn it in a far more comprehensive way. The reason for this is because the people he is going to teach are different than him and may view the topic or issue at hand differently than he does.
Moses, so to speak, starting his teaching job when he first received the teaching from G-d, and it is for this reason that he already then deserved the designation as their father.
This idea is reinforced by the following exchange between a young father and Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (1914-2005), of blessed memory. The father asked Rabbi Wolbe, a renowned expert in the area of child-rearing, when he should begin focusing on his child’s education. The rabbi asked how old was the child in question and was told that the child was only two years old. Rabbi Wolbe said, “You are more than two years late!”
Education does not begin when you teach a child the aleph-bet, nor does it begin when you first teach the child certainly fundamental concepts such Shabbat or kashrut. It begins long before a baby is even born. The actual words you tell your child pale in comparison to the lessons he will learn from the person you are. This dimension of parenting is a lengthy process to which parents-to-be must devote a lifetime of building their own characters and spiritual identities – long before their child is born.
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
Rashi writes (Bamidbar 1:1) that G-d frequently counts the Jewish people to make His love for them known. How does counting us often make us feel loved?
In commanding Moses and Aaron to take a head-count of the children of Israel (Bamidbar 1:2), G-d uses the word שְׂאוּ (se’oo) for the word “count,” instead of the more common words for counting (ex: s’for, m’ney). In Joseph’s interpretation of dreams, when Pharaoh’s wine steward is told that he will be reinstated to his position, a form of the word se’oo is used to imply a life-changing positive development (Bereshit 40:13). When informing Pharaoh’s baker that his dream foretold his beheading, a similar expression of se’oo describes a terribly negative development (Bereshit 40:19). What message could the Torah be giving about the Jewish headcount in using this uncommon word for counting, which elsewhere carries both extreme positive and negative connotations?
In explaining why the Tribe of Levi was singled out and not counted in the general census taken of the Jewish people (Bamidbar 1:46-49), Rashi explains that the census heralded an ominous outcome. Those included in the census would eventually partake in the sin of the spies and, as a result, die in the wilderness. As the Tribe of Levi was not involved with the Golden Calf, and had proven their loyalty to G-d, and would not die in the wilderness, He wanted them left out of the census. If Levi didn’t eventually join those who sinned, what difference could it make if they were counted with the others or not?
“These are the countings of the Children of Israel according to their fathers’ households; all the countings of the camps according to their legions, six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty. The Levites were not counted among the Children of Israel, as G-d had commanded Moses. The Children of Israel… encamped according to their banners, and so they journeyed; every man according to his families, by his fathers’ household.” (Bamidbar 2:31-34)
It would seem that the ‘process’ of the counting was more important than the actual number, and that it would have sufficed to simply relate that the Jews were counted. What value is there for us in the Torah’s recording these numbers?
As the unity of the Jewish people is of paramount value, why would each tribe travel separately and be differentiated by its own banner? Wouldn’t this contribute to disunity?
The members of the tribe of Levi were presumably on a higher spiritual plane than those of other tribes. Why then did they number only 22,000 (Bamidbar 3:30), substantially less than any of the other tribes. (Ramban)
Q: Our Rabbis teach that everything recorded in the Torah is written because of its relevance to every Jew in every generation. Why are the details which dominate Parshat Bamidbar, such as the arrangement of the encampments of the various tribes, significant and relevant to us?
A: Rabbi Aharon Kotler suggests that although this information seems like historical facts with no practical application to our lives, the parsha is in fact teaching us a very relevant lesson: the value of “seder” (organization) in Judaism. Instead of allowing the Jewish people to set up their own camping arrangements with their friends, the Torah insists that they specifically encamp together with other members of their tribe and prescribes the positions of the various tribes relative to one another. This arrangement was in effect during the entire duration of their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness.
Rashi writes in Parshat Emor (Vayikra 24:10) that the blasphemer was the son of Shulamit bat Divri and the Egyptian taskmaster whom Moses slew. Because his mother was descended from the tribe of Dan, he attempted to dwell among the tribe of Dan, but they refused him because his father was not from their tribe. Although one person camping in the wrong place (which was still the tribe of his mother) would seem to be insignificant, the tribe of Dan understood the critical value of preserving and refused to allow him to camp among them. Although the particular laws about the encampments do not apply to us today, the lesson about the value of serving G-d in an orderly and disciplined fashion is one that we can each apply in our daily lives. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Q: In Parshat Bamidbar we are taught that during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people had fixed locations for their encampments. Each of the tribes had a specific location relative to the other tribes where its members were to camp. Three of the tribes camped in the north, three in the south, three in the west, and three in the east. The tribe of Levi, together with the Holy Ark, encamped in the middle of the circle (Bamidbar 2:17). What lesson can be derived from this setup?
A: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chofetz Chaim, explains that just as the heart is located in the middle of the body, so too the Holy Ark which contained the Torah was located in the middle of the camp in order to be equidistant from every Jew. Similarly, the Bimah on which the Torah scroll is placed when it is being read is located in the middle of the synagogue. This teaches us that the Torah is equally accessible to every single Jew.
The Chofetz Chaim adds that our Sages teach that in the World to Come, the righteous will form a circle to dance around G-d. Although Jews may serve G-d in ways radically different from one another, they will all celebrate together – as long as their intentions are for the sake of Heaven and they obey the commandments. At that time we will discover that the Jew who seems diametrically opposed to us is in reality just as close to G-d, who will be in the middle of the circle, as we are. (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
“And Moses and Aaron took these men, those whose names had been selected.” Bamidbar 1:17
These men – The twelve tribal leaders [whose names had just been listed in the previous verses.] – Rashi
Moses adjured them, “If you will listen to them (rather than leading them), you will be held responsible for their missteps. This can be compared to a serpent whose tail complained to the head that it, too, wanted a chance to lead. The head, unwilling to stand up for itself, agreed to follow the tail and suffered miserably through the experience. Bereft of eyes to perceive danger, the tail led the snake into thorns, fire, lime pits etc. Whose fault was it? None other than the head which refused to stand strong in face of the tail. Similarly, when the leaders lead, the Almighty empowers them and grants them success. When they choose to listen to their followers instead, they fall in their wake.” – Midrash Rabbah, Devarim, 1:10
After the verse listed each of the twelve men individually, it then stated that Moses and Aaron took them. Why did it need to add to that, “those whose names had been selected?” Sifsei Kohein explains that herein lies a hint to the eventual downfall of these leaders who refused to accept leadership responsibilities and guide the nation with a strong hand. Instead, they ignored Moses’ warning and preferred to take their directives from the people and be led around by them. Thus, the verse adds, “those whose names had been selected;” it was only their “names” that had been selected, but their hearts were not entirely into it.
WHO’S YOUR DADDY?
“They gathered together the entire congregation on the first of the second month, and they established their genealogy according to their families, according to their fathers’ household…” Bamidbar 1:18
Their Father’s Household – In contrast to nationality, which is matrilineal, tribal affiliation is patrilineal. One whose father is from the tribe of Reuben and mother from Simon, belongs to the tribe of Reuben. – Rashi
Their Father’s Household – The Medrash [Yalkut Shimoni, Remez 226] writes that the non-Jews would taunt the Jews regarding their lineage, claiming that they were born of Egyptian fathers and Jewish mothers. To offset this claim, G-d made the children look exactly like their Jewish fathers so that their ancestry was undeniable. Thus, the census offered another benefit on top of all the others, in that all were uplifted to recognize how similar the children looked to their fathers, and how the Children of Israel had retained their sexual purity throughout the duration of Egyptian enslavement. – Sifsei Kohein Al HaTorah
It is ironic that the nations of the world have long sought to delegitimize the Jewish people by claiming that their ancestry was flawed. The scoffers of his generation claimed that Yitzchak Avinu (our forefather Isaac) was a product not of Abraham, but of Abimelech, who had detained Sarah for an evening. Following the Exodus from Egypt, the nations claimed that our Egyptian taskmasters fathered the Jewish children which would have been a great stain on our reputation. In each case, G-d made the children’s appearance similar to their fathers’ to demonstrate that this was pointedly not the case. Rather, the opposite is true. Throughout the centuries, the Jewish people strove mightily to preserve this distinct legacy of purity even to the point of offering their lives, if necessary.
REPORTING FOR DUTY
“These were the sons of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their births according to their families, according to the house of their fathers, according to the number of individual names, every male of twenty years and above, all who go forth into the army.” Bamidbar 1:20
All who go forth into the army – The verse sets forth two criteria for being counted in the census: 1) They must be twenty years and above and 2) fit to serve in the army. Those who were older than twenty, but were weak and unfit to serve in the army were not counted. – Ksav V’Kabbalah
Or HaChaim understands the words, “all who go forth into the army,” very differently than Ktav V’kabbalah does. Their intent is not to exclude those unfit to serve in the army. Rather, the verse adds those words to emphasize that there wasn’t a single individual who was not fit to do so. Remarkably, in spite of their difficult past, they were in outstanding physical condition and every single one of them was capable of bearing arms and defending his nation. No other nation can lay claim to such a feat, and this speaks volumes of the special care and attention that G-d lavished upon His nation during our lengthy stay in the harsh desert.
THINKING OF YOU
“These are the numbers which were counted by Moses, Aaron and the tribal leaders of Israel, twelve men, each man was the head of his fathers’ house. All the numbers of Children of Israel according to the house of their fathers, from twenty years and above, all who go forth into the army of Israel. All their numbers were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty.” Bamidbar 1:44-46
These are the numbers which were counted by Moses, Aaron and the tribal leaders of Israel – Each tribal leader was involved in the counting of every tribe, not only his own. In this manner, all were assured that there were no discrepancies in the census and that no tribe received a greater share of the Land of Israel than to what he was entitled. – Malbim
These are the numbers…All the numbers…All their numbers… – Why does it repeat the word, “numbers” three times? The three times the word “numbers” is found in these verses correlates to these three reasons for the census.
- The numbers that were counted by Moses and Aaron = Now they would pray on their behalf.
- All the numbers…who go forth into the army = Now they knew who was fit to join.
- All their numbers 603,550 = From a mere 70, there now numbered three million including women, children and those older than sixty.– Ksav Sofer
Based upon this idea set forth by Nachmanides that the purpose of the census was to have their names mentioned before Moses and Aaron who could then pray on their behalf, Hasidim have a custom to present their spiritual leaders with a note containing their names and areas of need. In this manner, the Rebbe can think of them and pray for their well-being, just as Moses and Aaron did on behalf of the Jewish people.
MORE POWER TO YOU
“And the Jewish people did in accordance with all that G-d had commanded Moses, so they did. Bamidbar 1:54
And the Jewish people did in accordance – They did not lay hands upon the Tabernacle for eternity (other than the Levites, of course, whose job it was to assemble and dismantle it). – Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra)
And the Jewish people did…so they did – Why does it say “they did” twice? They did not begrudge the Levites for living in close proximity to the Tabernacle while they were on the outskirts of the encampment. They also did not begrudge them the honor of assembling and dismantling the Tabernacle, whereas they weren’t ever permitted to touch it. – Sifsei Kohein
It is interesting to note that while the Israelites did not begrudge the Levites their good fortune and exalted rank, the tribe of Levites itself was not entirely successful in avoiding jealousy. Korach, a prominent Levite, led the rebellion against Moses and Aaron in the hopes of securing himself an even loftier position. Perhaps a lesson that can be derived from here is that once a person tastes power, it’s not as easy to be satisfied with his helping, as it is to forgo it altogether. The Israelites did not lust for power because they hadn’t even tasted it. The Levites, who sampled its intoxicating sensations, found it hard to remain satisfied with their portion.
ALL FOR ONE
“G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, ‘The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the flags of their fathers’ household…surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp.’” Bamidbar 2:2
The Children of Israel Shall Encamp – The twelve tribes were organized into four formations of three tribes each. These formations were known as Degalim [banners]. Their places around the Tabernacle, which was in the center of these four formations, were the same as those Jacob assigned to his sons when he instructed them on how to accompany his bier to the Land of Israel for burial. – Rashi
It is well known that these instructions for the tribes to travel as separate units, were first given to the Moses and Aaron toward the beginning of their second year in the desert. Until this point, the nation traveled in haphazard fashion without any apparent order. Why was this arrangement delayed for so long? Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l explained that although isolating the tribes into separate entities offered real benefits, it was fraught with danger as well, for it contained great potential for divisiveness among the people, as each tribe prided itself on its individuality. The only means of offsetting this potential drawback, was to somehow help the people recognize that while each tribe was unique in its strengths, they’re all working toward one goal: serving G-d . Thus, it was only once the Tabernacle was constructed [in the beginning of the second year], and could be placed in the center of the encampment as a reminder that serving G-d was their common goal, that it was deemed practical to separate them into unique entities.
IT’S IN THE WILL
“And the Children of Israel acted in accordance with all that G-d had commanded Moses; so they encamped in accordance with their tribal flags and so they journeyed; every man according to his families, by his father’s household.” Bamidbar 2:34
Acted in accordance with all – All the years that they spent in the dessert. – Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni
By his father’s household – Why did it have to say, “By his father’s house?” If they encamped and traveled with their tribe, it must have been together with their fathers’ family, since that was how tribal affiliation was determined. When the Almighty instructed Moses and their travel formation, Moses was greatly troubled as he feared that this arrangement would lead to bitter dissension, for no tribe would be satisfied with its place. The one on the south would want to be on the north side. One tribe would desire to be closer with a different neighbor, with whom it had more in common. This one would want to be more toward the rear, while another one would want to be more forward. Insisting that they all remain in their assigned place was a recipe for disaster. The Almighty reassured him that he had nothing to fear as they already understood that this was to be the arrangement based on an incident that had occurred with their ancestors many years earlier. Prior to his passing, the Patriarch Jacob gathered his children and shared some final thoughts with them. He blessed them, exhorted them to follow in the ways of the Almighty, and insisted that they accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven. Following that, he gave instructions on how his bier was to be transported to Canaan for burial. Only his sons were to carry it. His grandsons, whose mothers were Canaanite women, were not permitted to touch it. Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt was instructed not carry it, in deference to his royal status, as well as the Levites, since they would later carry the Holy Ark. Each son was assigned a place around the casket. He also promised them that if they accepted the arrangement as he had laid it out for them, the Almighty would later follow a similar pattern when they traveled according to their tribal designations. Thus, explained the Almighty to Moses, there was no need to fear dissension in this matter as they would be glad to follow in the directives of their fathers who had long ago accepted this arrangement. Therefore, the verse stresses that they traveled according to their tribal designation “each man together with his father’s family”. – Midrash Rabbah 2:8
DON’T GIVE UP
“From thirty years and above until fifty years, all who enter into the division to perform service in the Tent of Meeting.” Bamidbar 4:3
- From thirty years and older – Here the verse limits their service to thirty and above, whereas later [8:24] it offers a different time frame: “This concerns the Levites; from the age of twenty-five years and above he shall enter the division for the duties of the Tent of Meeting.” How can we reconcile the apparent discrepancy in the verses?
- Beginning at the age of twenty-five, they were permitted to do light work which did not involve physical labor. Only once they reached the age of 30 were they allowed to perform physical labor, such as dismantling and carrying the Tabernacle. – Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor
- From the age of twenty-five, they began to study of the laws of the service for a period of five years. They did not begin their actual service, however, until the age of thirty. From here we derive that a pupil who does not enjoy success in his studies for five years has no hope of ever seeing it.– Talmud, Tractate Chullin
The story is told about a father who visited Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Kanievsky zt”l [Steipler Gaon] and shared with him his despair over his son’s lack of success in his studies. “It’s already five years that he’s studying in cheder, and he hardly knows anything,” lamented the anguished father. “I believe this must be to what our sages referred when they said that one who does not merit success for five years is bereft of any hope of doing so. Perhaps it would be best if I took him out of the cheder,” he concluded. The Steipler looked at him with penetrating eyes and asked, “Can he read the aleph-bet? Can he translate at least a few words of the Chumash?” The father assured him that his son was capable of at least this much. “In that case,” continued the Steipler, “How can you claim that he has not merited success? Surely this is a sign of success. Perhaps not what you had envisioned or hoped for, but a child who can read aleph-bet and translate words of the Torah is surely a success, and you must continue to educate him as before.”
“But they [the Levites who would carry them] shall not come and look as the holy [vessels] are covered, lest they die.” Bamidbar 4:20
Shall Not Come And Look… – The holy vessels were placed in their wrappings by the Kohanim, and only then were the Levites allowed to come and transport them. – Rashi
Shall Not Come And Look… – The prohibition against seeing the Ark was so grave that it included avoiding even a momentary glance.– HeEmek Davar (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin)
Shall Not Come And Look… – Not only were they not permitted to touch the Holy Ark in it’s uncovered state, but were also forbidden to touch the Ark through its covers while they were carrying it. Instead they had to carry it by its poles only. – Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra)
The penalty for transgressing this prohibition is undoubtedly quite severe. This indicates that the matter is not as simple as one might imagine. What could possibly be so terrible about seeing or touching the Ark? Our sages tell us that the Ark represents the Torah. Although the Torah can be readily accessed in book form, in reality the Torah is something much greater than a book or a set of laws. It is the manifestation of G-d’s will on earth. This means that for whatever we do know of the Torah, there is far more that we don’t know. Whatever we can come in contact with is but the outer edge of the Torah, which is truly beyond the capacity of mankind to grasp, given its divine roots. This inaccessibility was symbolized by the prohibition against seeing or touching the Ark, which served to remind us that although we were given the Torah on Mount Sinai, there is far more to it than we can ever conceive. It is for this reason as well, that we are careful not to touch the parchment of a Torah scroll with our bare hands without sufficient cause. It is a sign of this limitation in our ability to perceive the Torah
Hey, I Never Knew That
The commentaries note that, strangely, the number of Jews in the census in the Torah portion this week, 603,550, is the exact same number as in the previous census (Shemot 30:15,16). The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:10, Tanchuma Ki Sisa) maintains that both sources refer to the same census, which clearly solves the problem. However, most maintain that these refer to two separate counts, one in the first year before the construction of the Tabernacle and one in the second year. How could the numbers be the same? Some argue that there were no deaths as long as the Tabernacle was being built (Lekach Tov), and some explain that the number of those turning 20 and those dying were equal, so the population size was stable. (Rashi, Shemot 30).
Word of the Week
They shall place in it all the utensils used for the service, fire pans, מזלגות —mizlagot (Bamidbar 4:14). Rashi translates מזלג—mazleg as a tubular implement used to turn over the meat on the altar. This is usually understood as being a curved, bronze hook (Yoma 12a, Menachot 107a), or as translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “a flesh poker.” Rabbi David Kimchi (Sefer Hashorashim, zeleg) translates the word as a “three-pronged utensil used to remove meat from a pot”—in other words, a fork, which is the Modern Hebrew usage of the word as well.
“And they [the Levites] will not come and see the sacred [furniture] being packed, and they will not die” (Bamidbar 4:20). The question has been asked to numerous rabbis in past as to whether one may eulogize a righteous person who specifically asked not to be eulogized, and opinions vary (See Responsa Yabia Omer, 9:33). Rabbi Moshe Sofer of Pressburg eulogized Rabbi Meir Wertheim despite his having requested in his will that there be no eulogies. Among his numerous arguments, Rabbi Sofer cites the verse in the Torah portion this week as a hint to the obligation to eulogize a righteous person and reads the verse as follows: And they, the Jews, shall not just see the holy one be “packed” and die; rather instead of standing by silently, they should eulogize him (notes, Derashot Chatam Sofer, p. 393, par. 2).
Parsha at a Glance
A census of the Jewish people was taken during the second year of their journey in the Sinai desert. The sum of half-shekel contributions by all males over the age of twenty was counted. The Torah details the totals for each tribe – except for the tribe of Levi, which was not included in this census. G-d appointed them over the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and all its utensils. He designated them to carry it while traveling, to take it apart and reassemble it as necessary.
With the Mishkan at the heart of the camp and the Levites on all four sides, the twelve tribes (divided into groups of three) surrounded it in a specific formation, each with its own banner.
- Near the tribe of Judah in the east were the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun.
- Near the tribe of Reuben in the south were the tribes of Simon and Gad.
- Near the tribe of Ephraim in the west were the tribes of Menashe and Benjamin.
- Near the tribe of Dan in the north were the tribes of Asher and Naphtali.
The Torah lists Aaron’s children. Since Nadav and Abihu died, Elazar and Itamar served together with their father. Moses placed the Levites before Aaron to establish their service to him; they would assist him in guarding the Sanctuary.
When the Ten Commandments had been given to the Jewish people, the firstborns performed the service to G-d. The Levites now replaced them and assumed this holy status. Moses now counted all Levite males above the age of one month. As there were 22,273 Levites, 22,000 of them replaced the firstborns and the remaining 273 were firstborn themselves. Moses then counted all Israelite males above the age of month – totaling 22,273. The family of Kehat (of the tribe of Levi) was counted separately to determine the number of men between the ages of thirty and fifty. Aaron and his sons covered the Ark and its utensils, so that the men of Kehat would not be exposed to the Ark while carrying it. Elazar, Aaron’s son, was responsible for carrying the oil for the menorah, anointing oil, and incense.