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Counting the People

שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם לְבֵ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר שֵׁמ֔וֹת כָּל־זָכָ֖ר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָֽם

Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers' houses; a head count of every male according to the number of their names. (Bamidbar 1:2)

Parshat Bambidbar opens with God’s commandment to Moshe to count Bnei Yisrael (which is why in English, Sefer Bamidbar is known as “Numbers”). The counting was limited to all males age 20 and over - those who would be serving in the army. Each tribe was counted separately, and the Nasi (prince of leader) of each tribe was named as well.

The tribe of Levi, however, was not included in this initial count, because they were not to participate in the military. Levi had the special role of spiritual leaders of the people, and all served in the Mishkan, so they were exempted, if not excluded, from military service. They would be counted separately, later on.

The tribe of Levi would also not be getting their own territory in the Land of Israel. They would be living throughout the land, embedded among the different tribes so as to serve as their spiritual leaders.

The tribe of Levi did not participate in the sin of the Egel Hazahav (the golden calf). When the rest of the nation was worshiping this idol, Levi stayed loyal to God. Rashi further explains that after the sin of the meraglim (spies) when everyone over age 20 was destined to die in the desert and forbidden to enter the Land of Israel, Levi was excluded from that punishment. So by not counting them here, their numbers were kept separate from those who lived before the sin of the meraglim, and those who lived afterwards.

After the rest of the tribes were counted, the responsibilities of the tribe of Levi were further described, specifically as they relate to carrying and traveling with the Mishkan, and how in the desert, they would camp right adjacent to the Mishkan. Members of any other tribe who tried to assist with the moving of the Mishkan or any of its vessels would die - according to Rashi it was a heavenly death, not one imposed by his fellow man.

Once the Torah explains where Levi would camp, the narrative then goes to explain how the rest of the nation would camp. Three tribes would camp together on each side of the Mishkan, north, south, east, and west, each camp with its own flag.

The location of Levi and the Mishkan were clearly central, both physically and spiritually to Bnei Yisrael. But the importance of how the rest of the nation surrounded them cannot be discounted. Additionally, as these other tribes all had armies, they served to protect the camp as well as the Mishkan.

Thus we see the importance of both the spiritual side of the nation, as well as its physical well being. While God protected the people, the people had to be prepared to do their part as well. Certainly something important to remember as we go into the celebrations of Yom Yerushalayim.

מועדים לשמחה לגאולה שלמה!



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