OU Torah Insights Project
outlining the reward that Pinchas was to receive for his zealotry, God
commands Moshe to attack and punish the nation of Midyan for enticing the
Jewish people to sin and for causing the plague that nearly consumed them.
Yet, immediately following this command, the Torah abruptly changes
direction, stopping in mid-sentence to begin a new count of the people.
questions arise from this strange turn in the text. Why does the Torah
end the story of the strife with Midyan so abruptly? What is the function
of the new census? And why is it connected to (and then disconnected
from) the story of Pinchas?
answer to these questions lies in the curious language Moshe and Elazar
utilize when initiating Gods command to count every male above age
twenty. Moshe and Elazar say, Take the sum of the people from twenty
years old and upward, as the Lord commanded Moshe and children of Israel
who went forth from the Land of Egypt. (26:4) After the miraculous
excitement of the Exodus and the glorious revelation at Sinai, the nation
of Israel suffered setbacks of ever-increasing magnitude, culminating in
the punishment following the sin of the meraglim,
when God banished every male over age 20 from entering the Promised Land.
forty long years of wandering in the desert, the people were
understandably full of doubt. Would
God retain His relationship with them or instead move on? Would He
maintain the closeness that began at Sinai or would He view the
descendants of the original Am
Hanivchar with disdain?
counting the people anew, God aims to allay their fears and refresh their
spirit by adding a sense of newness and distinction to their mission. He
wishes to give them the same purity of spirit that was present in the
Jewish nation after they had left Egypt. Therefore, God counts the nation
again. The purpose of this count serves not as a census or military count
so much as a reestablishment of their old identity as the Am
Hameyuchad that would forever keep and guard Gods covenant.
unique nature of the count becomes more apparent when we scrutinize the
text of the counting itself. As opposed to the count taken at the
beginning of Bamidbar, which
focused on a military structure, here the count focuses on history,
concentrating on the roots and families of each particular tribe and their
connection to the original children of Israel. While their parents needed
no family history in the earlier counting, their children, an entirely new
nation, required reassurance that they indeed also constituted Klal
is precisely for this reason
the Torah connects and then disconnects this counting from the plague at
enduring the punishment of wandering in the desert for so many years, the
Jews seem to immediately revert to their sinful ways when they engage the
women of Midyan. Had they broken the camels back? Had their sin
pushed them over the edge, causing God to abandon them for eternity? God
immediately answers their doubts by counting them once again, as a
shepherd counts his flock. By cherishing each member of Klal
Yisrael, God reestablishes a covenant with them and ensures that they
would forever be the Am Hanivchar,
Gods chosen people.
Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Spolter is rabbi of Agudas
Achim Congregation in West Hartford, Connecticut