A New Way of Counting to 12By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Having spent the past few chapters detailing how the kohanim and Leviim were divided into 24 “watches” with weekly rotations for their various tasks, the Book now describes how David’s officials had a similar work detail. We see that this rotation was not arranged at this time, as Asahel was in charge of one of the shifts and he was killed very early in David’s career (see II Samuel chapter 2). Rather, this system was in use throughout David’s reign, while David organized the Temple “watches” close to the end of his life.
Verses 2-15 list the heads of the monthly rotations and the months for which they were responsible. Verses 16-22 name the heads of most of the Tribes, though the reason for the inclusion of this list at this juncture is unclear. (Gad and Asher are conspicuous by their absence, but there are still 12 Tribes in the list. Such lists usually either (a) list Levi and count the sons of Joseph as one Tribe or (b) omit Levi and count Ephraim and Menashe as separate Tribes. Here, Levi is included, as is Ephraim and – surprise! – Menashe is listed twice! Since their Tribe lived on both sides of the Jordan, they had a Tribal leader over each half.)
When arranging the various work details, David only counted the men over 20 years of age, as was done when Moses took the census in the wilderness (see Exodus 30:14). This is because G-d promised that the Jews would be as limitless as the stars in Heaven. From his earlier error in taking a census (as detailed in chapter 21 of this Book), David knew not to take a comprehensive tally of all of Israel; the number had to be “fuzzy.”
The chapter ends by telling us who was in charge of various aspects of David’s affairs: the storehouses, the field hands, the vineyards, the cattle, and many other resources that required expert coordination.