Parshat Bamidbar 5779: The Census — Method of the Count?, Context in Formation of Encampment

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua for Bamidbar is being co-sponsored jointly by R’ Raphael and Vivianne Willig dedicated Lilui Nishmas for the Yahrtzeit for Rafi’s grandmother Ella bat R’ Dovid HaKohen, and R’ Avraham and Elana Lewis — both co-sponsors are from Ramat Beit Shemesh. To the Willig and Lewis families, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3


Parshat Bamidbar 5779: The Census — Method of the Count?, Context in Formation of the Encampment

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat Bamidbar opens with Hashem speaking to Moshe as the Jews camped in Bamidbar:

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai… on the first of the second month, in the second year after Yetziyot Mitzrayim, saying: ‘Take a census of the entire assembly of the B’nei Yisrael according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names, every male according to their head count; from twenty years and up…'” Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posukim 1-3 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides commentary on Sefer Bamidbar, both in his introduction (pages xvii-xviii) of his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar as well in content for Parshat Bamidbar (page 3):

…Sefer Bamidbar can justifiably complain of: “middle child syndrome.” Although this volume is technically not the Torah’s “middle child” (the distinction… claimed by Sefer Vayikra), it is, nonetheless a text that is sorely underappreciated and misunderstood….

… Properly understood, Sefer Bamidbar conveys some of the most important lessons of the entire Torah…. From these events [i.e., the departure from Har Sinai, the sin of the miraglim – spies, Korach’s rebellion, Bila’am’s Ba’al Peor scheme and Nasi – Prince Zimri’s sins of tolerating co-habitation with Moabite women in the Camp of B’nei Yisrael and bringing a Moabite woman, Kosbi, to his tent for co-habitation for which they were speared simultaneously while in the act by Pinchas, ending a plague and being rewarded by Hashem with the Kehunah bestowed upon him and with eternal life.], as well as from all of the steps leading to and following them, we will learn much about our heritage, our people and ourselves. (Introduction – pages xvii-xviii)

…As a result of an apparent calendar coincidence, the reading of Sefer Bamidbar begins each year in the Beit Knesset on the Shabbatot directly before the festival of Shavu’ot.

Sefer Bamidbar is unique among the five books of the Torah as it is almost entirely limited to the description of the historical events… that mark the Jews’ sojourn in the wilderness. (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar, page 3)

Torah Gems, Volume III, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, on our Parshat brings varying citings regarding the census in Bamidbar. Torah Gems cites Birkat David (page 7):

Torah specifies the exact day, because this is after the giving of the Torah (“in the desert of Sinai”),and from then on time had special significance. Once Torah had been given, each instant became precious and offered the opportunity for every person to perfect himself, to learn more Torah, to perform other Mitzvot, to perform another good deed.

Torah Gems, Volume III also cites a comment from Kli Yakar as well as additional commentary (page 8):

“According to Rashi the count here was by means of shekalim” (i.e. that each person had to bring half a shekel). Many commentators disagree…, and state that this was an actual count, rather than one involving shekalim, and they bring proof from the fact that Torah specifies “according to their head count.”

Additionally, Torah Gems, Volume III cites (pages 7-8) as follows:

Why didn’t Hashem command that each give half a shekel as in Shemos, Perek 30, posuk 12, “When you take a census of the B’nei Yisrael…, every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul [the half-shekel]… so that there will not be a plague among them”? After all, wouldn’t counting the people bring about a plague? Rather, Torah stresses, “by number of the names,” namely that they did not count the people but the names of the people, and there was no problem with that. (citing Ralbag)

The Torah uses the word “rosh” here, …translated as “number” [or census as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash]. The word “rosh” literally “head,” teaches… the importance of the Jewish people, that each is a head, each is important in himself. Each Jew must accordingly feel the great responsibility he has for all his actions, for every action of his can improve the condition of the world, or Heaven forbid, make it deteriorate. (citing Shaloh)

This author has written and spoken in the past of the importance of one’s name. We learn that Adam HaRishon named each animal for its characteristics and attributes, and that Adam and Chava, post-Eitz Hadas, named one of their sons “Hevel”, which has been translated as “vanity” [in the context of “Aleinu”: “It is Our Duty”], the name was given apparently with the hope and desire that this son be able to distinguish Tov” from “Rah”, good from evil. So, too, we attach importance to naming our offspring for those of our family who came before us, or for great Rabbanim or Talmidei Chachamim in the hope and desire that the offspring will strive to emulate the ways and attributes of their namesake.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash cites both Ramban and Sforno regarding the significance of “Names” (Sheimot) as stated in posuk 2 of our Parshat (page 727):

It was a great honor for each person that he gave his name, as an individual, to Moshe and Aaron (Ramban). At that point in history, a person’s name was Divinely inspired to indicate his personal virtues. In the census before the nation crossed the Jordan, thirty-nine years later, this was no longer the case, and there was no mention of names. (Sforno)

R’ Goldin now builds on the earlier Torah Gems citings and provides context regarding the census in the formation of the encampment (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar, pages 7-9):

The Torah… outlines the structure of the Jews’ wilderness encampment. Hashem commands the people to surround the Mishkan [Sanctuary] on all sides, in four groups of three Shevatim [tribes] each; each group in a specific location, delineated by that group’s banner. The tribal clusters are to bear the names of the leading Shevet in each section: Yehuda, Reuven, Ephraim and Dan. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 2, posukim 1-34)

The Rabbis…. ask, What is the purpose of the national census?

Given that the Jews were already counted through the donation of half shekels only a short time before (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemot, Perek 38, posuk 26), why does Hashem command that they be counted again?

…Why does this census differ so radically from the first? The census conducted before the building of the Mishkan simply arrived at a total number for the entire nation. Now, however, Hashem commands a seperate tally for each individual shevet.

After first… stating, “I have not understood the reason for thie [Divine] commandment” (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posuk 45), the Ramban offers a series of possible reasons for the census, from the rational to the mystical. Many of these explanations are noted by later commentaries, including the Abravanel (Rabbi Goldin citing Abravanel on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posuk 1):

The military motivation mentioned by the Rashbam (to determine the strength of the nation’s fighting force).

…The kindness bestowed by Hashem upon the nation: the Jews have been transformed from the family of seventy who descended to Mitzrayim into a people “as numerous as the sands of the sea.

To reassure the people that their cherished relationship with Hashem remains intact even after the… sin of the golden calf: “He increases the nations” (Rabbi Goldin citing Iyov 12:23), “He wounds and He makes whole” (Rabbi Goldin citing Iyov 5:18).

To grant each Jew the spiritual benefit of a direct encounter with Moshe and Aharon: these great leaders will automatically pray on behalf of the individuals who, one by one, pass before them.

To bestow upon every Jew the personal respect due to him: …instead of asking the head of each family to list the number of people in his household, Moshe and Aharon must count every individual directly.

To ensure proper division of the Land of Israel based upon accurate counts of each shevet and family: the expectation being, at this point, that the journey from Sinai will lead the nation directly into the land. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posuk 45)

Rabbi Goldin shares citings from many additional commentators regarding this second census and how it fits with the formation of the encampment which would elongate this vort, but which, B’Ezrat Hashem, can be discussed in future Parshat HaShevuas. Suffice to say that Hashem’s command for a second census conveys to each Jew his personal, individual importance as an integral cog within the Nation of Israel.

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nearly five years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — 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.