This week’s sedra involves a lot of counting and shows that not only does size matter, but behind every number is a real person. As stated in the Hirsch chumash commentary ‘the census makes it clear that the community cannot exist as an abstract idea but can have true being only in the totality of its components.
Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot.
When we think of the prelude to the giving of the Torah, we have a picture of Bnei Yisrael, in the ‘Midbar’, the wilderness, waiting. And now, in this, the fourth ‘Book’ of the Torah we are again in the ‘Midbar’. Midbar means wilderness – but the same letters also spell Medaber – ‘speaking’.
Thus we have an intrinsic connection between the wilderness and speaking – in this case, the voice of HaShem.
This Book of the Torah is so called because its actions and laws take place in the desert. The barren desert is strange place for Hashem to give His laws to the B’nei Yisrael. Hashem chose to give the laws to a new nation because they had not had time to become set in their ways and would be able to accept the direction of a new leader. Also, giving the laws in the desert, a barren place devoid of permanent homes and any luxuries, meant that the people would be willing to accept the guidance of Hashem. They would come out of the desert free from the influences of other nations.
Bamidbar is known as the Book of Numbers. Though the Hebrew word Bamidbar means ‘in the desert’, I assume that the name Numbers was derived from the fact that the first parsha begins with a count. Moshe is told to count the entire populace males that is from twenty and up. One tribe, however, was not counted together with the general population. Shevet Levi was counted separately and differently. Though the all the other tribe’s males were counted only from age twenty and older, even the babies of the tribe of Levi were counted.
The Book of Bamidbar continues where the Book of Sh’mot ends. There is only one month separating between these two books. The Tabernacle was completed on the first of Nissan in the second year. During that month the Almighty spoke to Moses inside the Tent of Meeting and gave him the Commandments which are included in the book of Vayikra.
In the second pasuk of this week’s sedra G-d speaks to Moshe telling him to ‘take a census of the entire assembly of the children of Israel….’ There appears to be a running theme this time of year, counting up the Omer and now taking a census. But what does it really mean to take ‘a census of the entire assembly’. There have already been two other censuses done, one by Avraham and one by Noach which ended in the destruction of humanity. Why is it important that it be done ‘according to their families’ seemingly detracting from the sense of individual?
This week’s parsha marks the beginning of the fourth book of the Torah concerning itself with the travels and travails of the Jewish people during their sojourn in the desert of Sinai. The book is replete with names of the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the count of the number of people in the camp of Israel and of many events that shaped the future of Israel for many generations to come. All of the commentators to Torah are perplexed by the great detail recorded in the book of Bamidbar. Of what value is it to know the names of the leaders of the tribes of Israel?
Given that I read the haftara this morning, it probably won’t come as a great surprise to you that – rather than concentrating on today’s sidra, bamidbar – this d’var torah is going to be on today’s haftara – the very interesting story of the first “minor” prophet, Hoshea.