A thought... BAMIDBAR. The sedra. The whole book. The forty years we spend wandering. It should not have been. We should have left Egypt, received the Torah, and gone into Eretz Yisrael. That was G-d's plan. We messed up. (At this point in the Chumash, the sin of the spies has not yet occurred, but the thought is still a thought.) Our track record does not improve too much throughout the Book of Bamidbar. It seems to be one thing after the other. And Bamidbar coming right before Shavuot makes matters worse by contrast. Just a thought.
Kohen - First Aliya - 19 p'sukim - 1:1-19
[SDT] Commentaries point out that the command to count the people was given to Moshe and Aharon (as opposed to just Moshe) because the census was done by collecting half-shekels from the people. Since money was involved, it is not proper to have only one person dealing with the matter. This became the ethical standard of dealing with public funds.
On the other hand... Another commentator suggests that this census was not done with shekels, but rather with a direct head count. Although we learn that it is improper, and even potentially dangerous, to count people directly, in this case there was a direct command to count the people. Hence, no harm would befall them during the carrying out of these Divine orders. This, in contrast to Ki Tisa, where the Torah says, "WHEN you count, then you MUST collect the half-shekel, etc. There the language in the Torah indicates that the counting was optional or practical, but not obligatory. Therefore, the indirect method was necessary.
[SDT] K'RU'EI HA'EIDA, a term for leaders of the people, is written with a YUD in place of the VAV as in the word's pronunciation. Baal HaTurim says that we can look at the YUD as a chopped VAV, to tell us that among the leaders was a "not so worthy" individual. He says that Shlumiel b. Tzurishadai, the leader of Shimon, was Zimri b. Salu, who caused G-d's anger to destroy many thousands of people, until Pinchas' act put an end to Zimri (and to the plague). Having G-d's name in his didn't help him. Note that there is a broken VAV in the Pinchas story, the VAV of BRITI SHALOM. Could there be a REMEZ connection.
In light of all the "problems" that Reuven had, and the fact that Yehuda, Yosef, and Levi each ended up with an element of that which might have been Reuven's, it is interesting that Reuven retains the designation "B'chor".
After the count of each Tribe, the Torah gives the grand total as 603,550. (The figure that is generally used to describe the multitude that left Egypt is 600,000. It is obviously rounded from the actual total.) With women and children, the number of people who left Egypt is probably between 2 and 3 million.
The Leviyim were not to be counted together with the rest of the Nation, but were to be counted separately. It was the Levi'im who were charged with carrying the components of the Mishkan and with dismantling and erecting the Mishkan each time the People traveled. Non-Leviyim were not to anger G-d by approaching the Mishkan in an improper manner. This applied to the encampment as well; the Levi'im were camped around the Mishkan and the Tribes kept their distance in their camps.
LiVnei Yehuda... for all the tribes the term LiVnei is used, except for Bnei Naftali. Baal HaTurim says that they had more women than men. In the later census, "Bnei" is used for all the tribes since the men died out - all had more women.
[SDT] Commentaries point out that the low population figures recorded for Levi were closer to what would be expected according to natural demographics. The figures for the rest of the people were unnaturally high. This is a result of the Torah's telling us, "and as they were tortured, so they multiplied". Among the many miracles that occurred in Egypt, was the fact the the people proliferated so greatly under very adverse conditions. Since the tribe of Levi was not subjected to the harsh conditions of slavery, its growth was "normal".
[SDT] The lead tribe of each camp was based on OTOT, signs, transmitted by Yaakov Avinu. The Baal HaTurim points out a correspondence between Yaakov's blessings to his sons and these camp-heads. Each son that Yaakov addressed in second person was to be a leader of a camp. "Revuen, YOU are my firstborn", "Yehuda, YOU your brothers will acknowledge", "Dan... YOUR salvation", "Yosef... the G-d of YOUR father... blesses YOU".
The Tribe of Levi is to be assigned the tasks of assisting the kohanim in their work and in safeguarding the Mishkan and its vessels. In essence, the Levi is to replace the B'chor who was sanctified from the day of the Exodus (and even before that). The b'chor was originally supposed to perform the sacred tasks of the Leviyim (and kohanim), but lost the privilege as a result of the Golden Calf.
SDT - "These are the names of the sons of Aharon, the B'chor (firstborn) Nadav..." The regular reading of the pasuk, based on the Taamei HaMikra (the Torah notes) indicates that Nadav is being identified as Aharon's B'chor. But there is a vertical line which separates between B'chor and Nadav, suggesting that it is Aharon the B'chor; Nadav, having died without children is not really a B'chor at this point. (Since the children of a deceased B'chor get their father's double portion, had Nadav had children he would retain the title of B'chor.)
The Gershon branch is to be in charge of the curtain material of the Mishkan, including the coverings and the courtyard enclosure.
Merari is in charge of the structural materials: the boards, support rods, foundation sockets, pillars. In all, 22,000 Levi'im are counted.
Clarification... If one adds up the counts of the three families of Levi - Gershon, 7500; Kehat, 8600; Merari, 6200 - the total is 22,300, not 22,000, the number used in the exchange with the firstborns. Rashi explains that the 300 "missing" Levi'im were themselves B'chorim, and were not part of the official exchange - see coming Aliya.
Choose your neighbors well. Rashi points out that the proximity of Degel Machane Yehuda to the encampment of Moshe and Aharon and family, had a positive influence on the three tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar, and Zevulun - the three tribes famed for their Torah scholarship. On the other hand, Reuven's closeness to Korach and his to Datan and Aviram, produces disaster.
Imagine gathering 22,273 people and asking each to choose a card from a batch of 22,273 cards, 22,000 of which have the words BEN LEVI on them and 273 have 5 shekel on them. This, says Rashi, is how they determined who would pay the 5 redemption shekels.
Rashi points out that the 5 sh'kalim of the B'chor, each worth 20 GEIRA. 20 pieces of silver is the amount the brothers received for the sale of Yosef. Rashi considers there to be a connection between the sale of Yosef and the requirement of redemption of the firstborn. Remember that Yosef was Rachel's firstborn.
The exchange of firstborn animals mentioned in 3:40 refers to firstborn donkeys and NOT kosher domesticated animals, which may not be redeemed. Rashi further says that one sheep of a Levi can exchange more than one donkey-b'chor (since there is no mention of a surplus).
Haftara - 22 p'sukim -Hoshei'a 2:1-22
The main connection between sedra and haftara, Rabbi Jacobs points out in A Haftara Companion, is the contrast between the counted, numbered people in the sedra, and the innumerable people of Israel referred to by Hoshei'a.
Midbar is a theme that occurs in both sedra and haftara.
Rabbi Jacobs reminds us that Judaism got its start in the Midbar, both in the form of G-d's prophecy to moshe at the Bush and, of course, Matan Torah at Har Sinai.
It is interesting to note that as many times as we "angered" G-d in the Wilderness, 10 times according to G-d's own statement in the Torah, He still had a special appreciation for the People of Israel for having "followed Him into the Midbar". He viewed our wandering at His command, without really knowing where we were going, as an act of kindness on our part in our early years as a nation. We view the Midbar experience with great ambivalence.