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Bamidbar 5773 ~ במדבר
The Book of Bamidbar — “In the desert” — begins with G-d commanding Moshe to take a census of all men over age twenty — old enough for service. The count reveals exactly 603,550 men, all capable of going to battle. The Levites are counted separately later because their service will be unique. They will be responsible for transporting the Mishkan and its furnishings and erecting them when the nation encamps.
The 12 Tribes of Israel, each with its banner, are arranged around the Mishkan in four sections: east, south, west and north.
Since Levi is singled out, the tribe of Yosef is split into two tribes, Efraim and Menashe, so there will be four groups of three. When the nation travels, they march in a formation similar to the way they camped. A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the Levites, whereby the Levites take over the role the first-born would have had serving in the Mishkan if not for the sin of the golden calf. The transfer is made using all the 22,000 surveyed Levites from one month old and up. Only Levites between 30 and 50 will work in the Mishkan.
The remaining first-born sons are redeemed with silver, similar to the way we redeem our first-born today. The sons of Levi are divided into three main families, Gershon, Kehat and Merari (besides the kohanim — the special division from Kehat’s family). The family of Kehat carried the menorah, the table, the altar and the Holy Ark. Because of their utmost sanctity, the ark and the altar are covered only by Aharon and his sons, before the Levites prepare them for travel.
MAFTIR Leviticus 4:17 – 20 ~ page 580
HAFTARAH Hosea 2:1 – 22 ~ page 582 – 585
Although the prophet passes severe judgment on Israel for its sins he can foresee the day when a united and prosperous people will return to Zion. Hosea’s own unhappy background (his wife having deserted him for her lover) serves to illustrate the message he now brings to the unfaithful people. G-d will abandon Israel (‘the unfaithful wife’) for deserting Him to worship Baal, and she will suffer the bitter punishment of exile. Yet G-d in His mercy will lead her back ‘to the wilderness….as in the day when she came out of the land of Egypt’ (this provides the connecting link with the Sidra). Israel, having abandoned idolatry, will be assured of peace and security and as G-d’s ‘bride’, will be betrothed to Him in righteousness, loving kindness and faithfulness.
Parashah & Holiday Study Questions
1. Many feel that V.2 is very redundant. Do you agree?
2. What can one learn from the fact that Menashe, Efraim and Benjamin total (40,500 + 32,200 + 35,400) comprised only 108,100 men? (hint: what percent of the total people did this represent?)
3. Why does V. 3:4 add the apparent irrelevant information that Nadav and Avihu had no children?
4. Did Kohat really name his son after the city of Chevron (v. 3:20)? If yes, is that bizarre?
5. The Biblical holiday observed on Tuesday evening has four names: Shavuot (the holiday of Weeks), Yom Habikurim (the Feast of the First Fruits), Chag HaKatzir (The Harvest Festival), & Atzeret (“the Ending Holiday,” referring to it being the end of the 49 days of the Omer). Can one holiday have so many different meanings? Do any other Jewish holidays fit this example?