The Encampment

Motzei Shabbos: parashas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20)

“The Children of Israel shall encamp, every man at his camp and every man at his banner, according to their legions.”  – Numbers 1:52

A census is taken. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel is counted separately. With the establishment of the Mishkan (Sanctuary), all the tribes have a central focus.  Because of this centrality in regard to the tabernacle, each tribe would pool together its talents for the sake of Israel’s purpose of service to the L-RD.

The Levites “were not counted among them” (Numbers 1:47).  For they were appointed “over the Tabernacle of Testimony, over all of its utensils and over everything that belongs to it” (Numbers, 1:50).  They were also in charge of rebuilding the sanctuary, and taking it down, whenever the Children of Israel moved to a new location in the wilderness, during those forty years of traveling in the desert.

“He found him in a desert land, and in the waste, a howling wilderness; He compassed him about, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Rashi comments, “There He surrounded them and encompassed them with the “clouds of Glory”; He surrounded them with the banners on their four sides” (Rashi; sefaria.org).

The tribes were encamped around the Sanctuary: three tribes in each direction.  The Levites were along three of the sides of the Mishkan. And, “those who encamped before the Tabernacle to the front, before the Tent of Meeting to the east, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guardians of the charge of the sanctuary” (Numbers 3:38).

Central to the entire formation, was the Ark of the Covenant in the Mishkan.  The Shechinah would rest in between the golden cherubim that were made from a single piece of gold on top of the Ark.  This is the continuation of G-d’s voice at Sinai; the Ark housed the commandments that were given by Him. His voice may still be heard today through the words of scripture, as well as within the silence of the heart.

Central Glory

drash for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“The L-RD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.’”

– Numbers 2:1-2, JPS 1985 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael were encamped around the Mishkan, according to their tribal affiliation. Aaron’s family and Moshe’s family were encamped on the east side, facing the front of the Mishkan. The Levites were encamped on the other three surrounding sides of the Mishkan. The rest of the twelve tribes were encamped further away from the Mishkan, three tribes on each side, north, south, east, and west.

The Levites were assigned the tasks, regarding the carrying of the Mishkan. B’nei Yisrael had been encamped at Sinai; now, these responsibilities were given, specifically, to each of the three Levite families, in preparation for the movement of the camp. First, a census was taken, of all the men eligible for war. The Levites were counted separately; they were chosen “to do the service of the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:6-8, JPS).

At the center of the encampment of the B’nei Yisrael [the Children of Israel] was the Mishkan, meaning “dwelling place.” This is where H’Shem’s presence, the Shechinah dwelt. The Hebrew word, Shechinah is derived from the word Mishkan. G-d would appear to Moses, when His presence rested between the two cherubim [golden angels], on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Also, He appeared within the manifestation of the Clouds of Glory to all of Israel.

Counting Sheep

shiur for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach (Messiah). “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShanah all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Divine Scrutiny

dvar for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel.”

– Leviticus 1:2

The Hebrew, translated here as “take a census, literally means “to lift up the head.” literal translation, ‘lift up the head.” This can be understood in different ways. In a positive sense,  that the people being counted within the census, would be exalted. Otherwise, a negative connotation would be to have their heads lifted off from upon them, meaning demerited. This dual meaning is found in regard to Joseph’s interpretation of the butler and the baker: one who was elevated to his former status, the other who was executed (Genesis 40:13, 19). The phrase implies that if the people were worthy, they would be elevated; however, if not, they would be judged (Ramban).

The census itself, is associated with divine scrutiny from Above. Therefore, it is feasible to comprehend that there would be two possible outcomes, along a continuum: pass or fail. This is akin to the predicament every year on Rosh HaShannah, when all mankind is judged for the year. Moreover, the Judgment at the end of history, when all inhabitants on earth are judged for what manner our lives were lived. Why a census itself is a time of scrutiny is unclear; it’s as if along with counting every individual, our deeds and misdeeds are also taken into consideration for good or bad.

Counting Sheep

B”H

Shiur for parashas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) 5780

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach. “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShana all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

parashas Bamidbar