Parshat Bamidbar

Parshat Bamidbar is the 1st in the Book of Numbers (Chapters 1-4). It is made up of an exhaustive census of Bnei Yisrael and the Tribe of Levi taken on the 1st day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year after the exodus from Egypt.

Following G-d’s command to take a census, leaders were enlisted and each tribe counted according to heads of households and their families. A second description of how the tribes encamped around and marched (with the Mishkan in the centre) followed.

G-d told Moshe to exclude the Levites from the tally, for they would have a unique role. A third census counted just the tribe of Levi and a fourth totalled the number of first-born among the other tribes – the numbers were nearly identical – the surplus of first-born being redeemed for 5 Shekels per person. In Naso, a fifth census was taken to determine the working-age Levites responsible for transporting the Mishkan.

For a detailed list of the numbers by tribe, encampment and household, click here.

Comment: Shavuoth celebrates the anniversary of G-d’s revelation at Sinai. The Torah is called the ‘5 Books of Moses’. In the way the chapters are divided into books we find many interesting patterns. Genesis & Exodus describe a quasi-chronological experience. The middle book, Leviticus, concerns the pathway to achieving a sacred life. And the final two, Numbers and Deuteronomy, return to the national narrative leading to Bnei Yisrael’s arrival at the border of Cana’an.

If, like a filled-pastry, we assume the centre holds the best part – the most emphasis and importance, than the historical sections on both sides must somehow embellish this.

Further, there’s an unusual disconnect between the English and Hebrew names of Bamidbar. In Hebrew the word means ‘in the desert,’ but in English it’s known as the Book of Numbers. Our sages from the Middle Ages enjoined us that the Torah was given in the Midbar for a reason – because unless we’re able to free our minds of worldly concerns, the Torah’s principles would be indiscernible to us. Just as a wilderness is empty of materialism, so too must we avoid bringing in our own agendas.

Put differently, unless we empty ourselves of ego-involvement, there would be no room to experience G-d-centered wisdom. And yet, the physical world beckons us to count, to number and to quantify.

So how do we reconcile these competing influences – an egoless approach in a materialistic-driven world? Bnei Yisrael in the wilderness had their issues – they were a stiff-necked people whose behaviour often disappointed or angered G-d. How are we 3,300 years later going to be better?

Judaism uses the idea of ‘Generations’ to discuss the passage of time. As we’re commanded during Pesah that each generation should see itself as having been redeemed from slavery, so too must we answer the question how each generation related to receiving the Torah.

No doubt we must have our basic physical needs met. It’s when we’re ready to put our ideas and ideals above our basic creature comforts that we begin to rise above our innate selfishness. That’s the point when the spirituality and transcendent principles of Torah are uncovered – like an oasis in the desert – and start to come into focus. Please take advantage of the opportunity Shavuoth presents!