Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.
First Aliya -19 p’sukim (1:1-19)
The sedra (and book) of BaMidbar opens in the Sinai wilderness in the second year out of Egypt, on Rosh Chodesh Iyar. The Mishkan having been erected one month earlier, the People are now to be counted. This, in preparation of the first traveling since arriving at Sinai eleven months earlier. (There had been two previouscensuses: when the People left Egypt and in the aftermath of the Sin of the Golden Calf.) 2½ sedras later (ch.9), the Torah tells us of events that occurred during Nissan, the previous month. Rashi there teaches us two things: one, that the Torah is not necessarily in chronological order; two, in this particular instance,G-d chose not to open the Book of BaMidbar on a negative note. Negative, because the People of Israel brought the Korban Pesach only that one time (ch.9) in all the years of wandering. (They were not allowed to bring K.P. the following years, because they had uncircumcised children among them. That was due to the dangerin moving a newly circumcised baby. Since the People had to be prepared to travel at a moment’s notice, they postponed circumcisions. Although this is an excusable reason for not bringing KP, it still is considered a mark of disgrace for the People, and G-d chose not to begin the Book of BaMidbar on that note.)
The command from G-d is to count the people, specifically the males from 20 years and up. 20 is the Torah’s age for military service. Assisting in the census are Aharon and a representative of each tribe.
The census was carried out as commanded.
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 standardof dealing with public funds.
On the other hand… Another commen tator 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 themduring 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.
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. Baa 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 Zimrib. 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.
Second Aliya – 35 p’sukim (1:20-54)
The Torah lovingly records the census results for each Tribe, beginning with Reuven and identifying him as Israel’s firstborn.
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 Levi’im 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 parts of the Mishkan and with dismantling and erecting the Mishkan each time the People traveled and camped, respectively. Non-Levi’im were not to anger G-d byapproaching 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… all the tribes except Bnei Naftali. Baal HaTurim says that they had more women than men. In the later census, Bnei is unsed for all since the men died out – all had more women.
Commentaries point out the the low population figures recorded for Levi were closer to what would be expected according to natural demo graphics. 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 miraclesthat 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”.
Third Aliya -34 p’sukim – 2:1-34
The next command deals with the position of the Tribes during encampment and the traveling order of the units. 3 Tribes each formed a “camp” under one banner at one of the compass-points around the Levite camp. The leader of each “banner camp” is the leader of the “main” Tribe of the three, as indicated by the name of thecamp. The camp of Yehuda was to the east and was to be the first to travel. Reuven Camp on the south followed them. Then the Levi’im with the Mishkan were to follow, so that they and it be within the people, not at its periphery. Then follow Ephraim Camp from the west, and the last to travel were those of Dan Camp, fromthe north. The Torah reiterates that Levi was not counted among the Tribes, and that the People did as they were commanded.
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 yourbrothers will acknowledge”, “Dan… YOUR salvation”, “Yosef… the G-d of YOUR father… blesses YOU”. The lead-tribes were Reuven, Yehuda, Dan, and… Yosef, but which Yosef. The clue comes in the form of a G’matriya, according to R. Yaakov Auerbach z”l. “And the Children of Israel camped each person in his camp and eachby his flag…” The numeric value of these 9 words (1:52) is 1653. In Vayechi it says of Yaakov that VAYASEM ET EPHRAIM LIFNEI MENASHE, he put Ephraim before Menashe. This phrase too totals 1653. Who was the head of the encampment of Yosef and Binyamin? Ephraim.
Baal HaTurim points out that the pasuk dealing with the Ephraim camp begins and ends with a DALET, hinting to the 4 times that Yaakov mentioned Ephraim before Menashe and to the 4 things concerning which Ephraim comes before Menashe.
Fourth Aliya – 13 p’sukim – (3:1-13)
The Torah proceeds to name the sons of Aharon and Moshe. (Actually, Moshe’s biological sons are not mentioned. The commentaries point out that Aharon’s sons are considered to be Moshe’s as well, because he (Moshe) taught them Torah.) The Tribe of Levi is to be assigned the tasks of assisting the kohanim in their work andin safeguarding the Mishkan and its vessels. In essence, the Levi is to replace the B’chor (firstborn), 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 Levi’im (and kohanim, perhaps), but lost the privilege as a result of the GoldenCalf.
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 indicates that Nadav is being identified as Aharon’s B’chor. But there is a vertical line which separates between the words B’chor and Nadav, leading one to say that it is Aharonthe B’chor (his being older than Moshe); Nadav, having died and without children is not really a B’chor at this point. (Since the children of a deceased B’hor gets their father’s double portion, had Nadav had children he would retain the title of B’chor.
SDT – Why were the Levi’im counted from birth (really at a month old, since at a month it becomes known that the baby is viable)? Because of the Torah’s language in describing the birth of Yocheved on the borders of Egypt. – Rashi
Fifth Aliya – 26 p’sukim – (3:14-39)
Moshe is commanded to count the Levi’im – males from the age of one month. The Gershon branch is to be in charge of the curtain material of the Mishkan, including the coverings and the courtyard enclosure. K’hat is in charge of the main holy furnishings of the Mishkan, including the Aron, Shulchan, Menora, and the Altars.Merari is in charge of the structural materials: the boards, support rods, foundation sockets, pillars. In all, 22,000 Levi’im are counted.
SDT – If one adds 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 them selves 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. OTOH, Reuven’s closeness to Korah and his to Datanand Aviram, produces disaster.
Sixth Aliya – 12 p’sukim – (3:40-51)
G-d next tells Moshe to count the firstborns of the Tribes, from one month and older, so that there can be an official exchange of the Levi’im for them. Moshe counts and finds that there are 22,273 b’chorim. A mass “redemption of the firstborns” is conducted by an exchange of 22,000 Levi’im (non-b’chorim) for 22,000 b’chorimand a payment of five silver sheqels for the remaining 273 firstborns to Aharon and his sons.
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.
Seventh Aliya – 20 p’sukim – (4:1-20)
A second census of Levi’im is begun with the counting of the family branch of K’hat – males between the ages of 30 and 50. This was the work-force in the Mishkan. The people of K’hat first were to wait for Aharon to enter the Mishkan, remove the Parochet and cover the vessels with special cloths. Only then could vesselsbe handled, or even seen, by the Levi’im. Elazar, the son of Aharon, was personally responsible for the special oils and incense of the Mishkan. The Torah warns the kohanim not to endanger the people of K’hat by not properly preparing for their handling of the most sacred vessels.
Last 4 p’sukim are reread for Maftir.
When the Torah said, these are the children of Aharon and Moshe and listed only Aharon’s biological children, the explanation was that he who teaches a child Torah, it is as if he gave birth to him. This, however, answers only half of the question. Okay, Aharon’s sons can be called Moshe’s too. Fine. Why aren’t Moshe’sown sons listed? Perhaps, the fact that they were isolated and protected from the Egyptian experience by Grandpa Yitro, in essence cut them off from the people. They certainly could not have a leadership role, and their lives are irrelevant to us.
First, a deepfelt Haftara apology for including the wrong Haftara in last week’s Torah Tidbits. I hope that I didn’t confuse too many people for too long. It was careless of me. It would be nice to claim an obscure source with a different Haftara system, but it ain’t so.
Haftara – 25 p’sukim Shmuel alef 20:18-42
When Rosh Chodesh is Sunday (or Sunday and Monday), then the special Haftara for Erev Rosh Chodesh preempts the regularly scheduled Haftara of the week. Machar Chodesh itself is preempted on three occasions (each occurs from time to time – statistics to follow) …test yourself before you read any further… Parshat Sh’kalim,Parshat HaChodesh, and R’ei (it would also happen on Chanuka, but 29 Kislev cannot fall on Shabbat).
The connection between the Haftara and Erev Rosh Chodesh is obvious. The opening words are: And Yonatan said to him, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh… The real question is why the Sages decided on a special Haftara for Erev Rosh Chodesh in the first place. No other “erev” gets a special reading. Why does Machar Chodesh? Perhapsit is because Rosh Chodesh is so understated and often ignored. This became a way – in addition to Rosh Chodesh benching – to say: Hear ye hear ye, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh. It seems that the connection is mainly in the opening words. Rabbi Jacobs points out in his A Haftara Companion that there are some lessons we learnfrom this passage in the Navi, and the knowledge makes us more aware of the specialness and sanctity of Rosh Chodesh. We see that Rosh Chodesh was celebrated with a special meal which was to be eaten in a state of ritual purity. Many have the custom today of marking Rosh Chodesh with a special meal. The Haftara also servesas a source of the minhag of abstaining or reducing one’s work on Rosh Chodesh. Rabbi Jacobs refers to a deeper connection between Rosh Chodesh and the Jewish People (which might explain why we take the extra opportunities to highlight Rosh Chodesh. The cycle of the Moon alludes to Jewish History. For 15 days (or so) theMoon increases in brightness and fullness, corresponding to the 15 generations from Avraham Avinu to Shlomo HaMelech. This is followed by 15 days of decline, matching the 15 generations from Shlomo to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the Babylonian exile. But this is followed by MACHAR CHODESH. Tomorrow will seethe brightening of the Moon and the fate of the People of Israel. The cycle continues until the Complete Redemption, when the Moon (and Klal Yisrael) will be completely restored.