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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Parashat Bemidbar

Parasha: Bemidbar – Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
Haftara: Hosea 2:1-22
Reading Date: 31st May 2008 – 26th Ayar 5768

The book of Numbers starts and ends with the Nation of Israel on the verge of entering its Land – but thirty eight intervening years of wandering in the desert was a low point in the history of the Nation. The book of Numbers contains the account of the spies who poisoned the minds of the people, the rebellion of Korah and his assembly, and the error of Moses and Aaron that cost them the privilege of entering the Land. But it also ends with the first step in the conquest of the Land of Israel.

The Talmud and other Rabbinic literature refers to The book of Numbers as ‘Chumash haPekudim’ because one of its major themes is the census of the people. They were counted individually as they passed in front of Moses and Aaron and presented proof of their tribal identity. What an awesome experience that must have been and I sense that it will be the same at the time of the restoration of the whole House of Israel.

Once counted the Tribes were arranged around the Tabernacle, demonstrating that the Presence of YHVH was their rallying point, the central focus of the Nation, as it should be to this day. Israel is a Nation because of Torah, by accepting it they became a people and by following it they remain a people. In the wilderness Israel would come to know and rely on YHVH. They were to encamp around the Tabernacle that contained the Tablets of the Mitzvoth and would march with them wherever YHVH led them.

Rashi notes that YHVH counts the Nation at every significant turn because He loves the people. It would have been much easier to count the people en masse but it would have caused the individual to be an insignificant member of the total community and it would have hindered his personal responsibility to grow and contribute. Each tribe had its own uniqueness and ability to contribute to the well being of the Nation and yt each individual was precious in his own right.
Even though an entire generation was lost, the children emerged strong and courageous, still gathered around the Tabernacle and ready to claim its destiny as the heirs to the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Ramban notes striking parallels between the Tabernacle, as seen through the light of the laws and the revelation at Sinai. These comparisons suggest that the Tabernacle and later the Temple was to serve as a permanent substitute for the Shekinah that rested upon Israel at Sinai. By making the Tabernacle central to the Nation, the people would keep ‘Sinai’ among themselves always. (Excerpts from Sifrei Zuta, Korach 8:14)

1:2 A person’s tribal identity is patrilineal. Thus for example a person with a father from Judah and a mother from the tribe of Asher belongs to the tribe of Judah. But nationality is matrilineal so child born to father from the nation of Israel and a gentile mother is a gentile. (Rashi)

1:46 There were 603,550 males above the age of twenty. According to Dilitch in those times out of 10000, 5580 would have been over the age of twenty. That would make a count of 3.3 million people. Staggering to think that they moved that amount of people together!

1:47-54 The Levites were not counted with the rest of the Nation. They were elevated to be the ones to guard and tend the Tabernacle. This was as a result of their loyalty to YHVH in the aftermath of the Golden Calf (Ex.32:26-29).

2:1-2 According to the Sages, Judah bore the figure of a lion, Reuven the likeness of a man or of a man’s head. Ephraim, the figure of an ox and Dan, the figure of an eagle. This so that the four living creatures, united in angelic forms, described by Ezekiel were represented on the four standards.

3:11-49 In their new status, the Levites replaced the firstborn, who had performed the services up until this time.

3:15 Unlike the other tribes, Levi is counted twice. In this chapter they are counted from the age of one month and up without an age limit. They would be counted again later from the ages of thirty to fifty (4:29).

3:40-51 The Levites take the place of the Israelite firstborn. The 273 more Israelite firstborn than Levites that were redeemed for five shekels each, the same amount that the Torah would ordain as the redemption for all firstborn.

4:4 ‘The most holy’ – The term usually refers to the chamber where the Ark rested, but in this context it refers to the holiest components of the Tabernacle (Rashi).

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