Parshat Bamidbar 5773: Why the Census NOW??

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha Bamidbar deals with the numbers crunching of the census taken “on the first of the second month, in the second year after their exodus from… Mitzrayim” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posuk 1):

“Take a census of the entire assembly of the B’nai Yisrael according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by the number of the names, every male according to their head count. From twenty years of age and up — everyone who goes out to the legion in Israel — you shall count them according to their legions, you and Aaron.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posukim 2-4)

Rabbi Mordechai Katz writes, in his Sefer L’lmode U’lamed, which this author regards as a snapshot of the weekly parshiyot:

These males automatically became liable for military service.

And indeed, Rabbi Artscroll (The Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, pages 726-727) cites Ramban who offers:

Since the people were about to go directly into Eretz Yisrael — and would have had they not sinned in the episode of the spies (chapters 13-14) — a census was needed to prepare the military cmpaign and to know how many people were eligible to receive prrotions in the land.

But Ramban also states two other reasons why Hashem ordered the B’nai Yisrael counted, and in light of the sin of the Eigel Zahav (the golden calf):

The miraculous growth of the nation, which had come to Mitzrayim as a family of only seventy people but two hundred and ten years before, showed conclusively that God loved them very much. So, too, did the need to count them after every significant loss of life [show that] every Jew is important to God.

Each member of the nation had a right to benefit from the personal attention of Moshe and Aaron, and the census was a great opportunity for every Jew who came before “the father of the prophets his brother, the holy one of God” to tell them his name and to be counted as an individual of personal worth. Surely Moshe and Aaron would bless them and pray for them, and the half-shekel contribution would bring them atonement. (The Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, page 726)

R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l explains these reasons even more clearly with this poignant commentary in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman, Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posuk 1, pages1-2):

The end of the second book [Sh’mos] of the Chumash tells of the construction of the sanctuary of the Torah. The third book [Vayikra] is devoted entirely to the standards set for Israel by this Sanctuary — in symbolic terms, by the offerings, and in practical terms, by the laws that sanctify every aspect of daily life. Thus an outline is presented of the idea [turned] into reality by every individual member of the nation as a whole.

The fourth book [Bamidbar] now returns to national reality. It shows us Israel as it actually is; it presents before us the actual nation in its relationship to the ideal as outlined in the third book. It opens with the command to take a census of the nation as… a community united by its common calling. All… members of the nation are to be counted, one by one. A census of this nature makes it clear to the nation’s representatives that the community is not merely an idea but, …exists only in the actual totality of its members. At the same time, every individual is made aware that he personally “counts” as an important member of the community, and that the task that devolves on the nation as a whole requires the faithfulness and devotion of each individual to the common calling.

The purpose of this census is neither economic or political — …economics and politics have no relevance to life in the wilderness…. This census is to be made in the service of the Torah which was given on Sinai, and to which homage is to be paid in the Ohel Mo’ed [the Mishkan, the Sanctuary]. Now, on the first day of the month of Iyar, all of the tribes, the families and the men are to be counted for the sake of… Torah. From now onward they are to gather and encamp around the Torah as its guardians and keepers.

And so what is the “common calling” we have as the guardians and keepers of Torah down through the generations, through today? As we glean from our Holy Torah, from the great commentators through our history to today, this common calling includes the emulation of Hashem through kindnesses — one to his fellow, Divine Service through our Tefillot (including Aleinu) and serving as a “light unto the nations as to how a G’dly nation acts when sovereign over its Land.

To reiterate how this author concluded last years discussion of Parshat Bamidbar, The Sefer Shem Mishmuel (pages 302-304) cites Chazal:

…The actions of a Jew can have enormous consequences for good or for bad. Literally, everything depends upon it. And it could be that when the Jews received the Torah at Sinai they had all this in mind when they proclaimed: “All that Hashem has said, we will do and hear.”

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.