There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion 34 Bamidbar, aliyah by aliyah.
Aliyah 1: Numbers 1:1-19
Numbers 1:1 HaShem spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month of the second year after they had left the land of Egypt. He said,
This is a new book. It starts with a time marker and we are all the way back to year two in the desert wilderness.
Numbers 1:2 Take a census of the entire assembly of the people of Isra’el, by clans and families. Record the names of all the men
I believe this census is a repetition, though I do not clearly recall. Why would HaShem would still want to take a census after the golden calf incident? Most of the men counted would die and be buried in the desert, so why count them?
Numbers 1:3 twenty years old and over who are subject to military service in Isra’el. You and Aharon are to enumerate them company by company.
This census is all the men who would die throughout the desert sojourn.
Numbers 1:4 Take with you from each tribe someone who is head of a clan.
What is the difference between a handful and more than a dozen men counting hundreds of thousands of men? Why didn’t Moshe, Aharon, his sons or some combination of them do the census themselves? Why does HaShem want the tribal princes involved?
Numbers 1:5-15 These are the men to take with you:
From Re’uven, Elitzur the son of Sh’de’ur;
Verses 6-15 list the rest of the princes of the Tribes.
Numbers 1:16 These were the ones called from the assembly, the chiefs of their fathers’ clans and heads of thousands in Isra’el.
These were the leaders who were in place at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Were they numbered among the 70 elders who saw HaShem on the Sinai mountain before the giving of the Torah?
Numbers 1:18 and, on the first day of the second month, they gathered the whole assembly to state their genealogies by families and clans and recorded the names of all those twenty years old and over, as well as their total numbers.
Was part of the reason to have each tribal prince oversee his Tribes census to enable all the counting to happen on in a single day?
Aliyah 2: Numbers 1:20-54
Numbers 1:47 But those who were L’vi’im, according to the clan of their fathers, were not counted in this census
Is this an implication from the text that tribal affiliation comes from the father? That makes sense to me.
Aliyah 3: Numbers 2:1-34
Numbers 2:2 The people of Isra’el are to set up camp by clans, each man with his own banner and under his clan’s symbol; they are to camp around the tent of meeting, but at a distance.
Each tribe has its individual identity. They are all Israel, all Jews, but they are not all the same. Even within a single tribe there are differences, such as the clans among the Levites.
Aliyah 4: Numbers 3:1-13
Numbers 3:12 I have taken the L’vi’im from among the people of Isra’el in lieu of every firstborn male that is first from the womb among the people of Isra’el; the L’vi’im are to be mine.
This suggests that the firstborn son of each family would have served as a Levite. Would they have worked for Aharon? Could there have been a Cohen Gadol from among any tribe or would it have remained exclusive to Levi?
Aliyah 5: Numbers 3:14-39
Numbers 3:39 The total number of L’vi’im whom Moshe and Aharon counted by their clans, all the males a month old and over, was 22,000.
It’s curious that all males from one month were counted among the Levites. They were not to go to war. Is that detail partly to drive home the fact that they are not meant for war?
Aliyah 6: Numbers 3:40-51
Numbers 3:45 Take the L’vi’im in place of all the firstborn among the people of Isra’el, and the cattle of the L’vi’im in place of their cattle; the L’vi’im are to belong to me, HaShem.
The exchange of the Levites for the firstborn of the rest of the nation of israel is happening now. I wonder if the Levites cattle is the primary or initial source for all the sacrifices.
Aliyah 7: Numbers 4:1-20
Numbers 4:20 but the descendants of K’hat are not to go in and look at the holy things as they are being covered; if they do, they will die.
Hashem orders these men to do this duty on behalf of their tribe, the whole nation of Israel and the world, but they are nearly in mortal danger for obeying. What is going on here? Is the peril what makes the job worthwhile? If it wasn’t dangerous would the work accomplish the same blessing?
Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.
1. Why People Count?
2. Why Should the Firstborn Serve?
3. Why Does the Father’s Clan Matter?
That concludes my journey through Bamidbar for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.