To Live and Appreciate
שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל… (א:ב). “Count all of the Jews…” (1:2).
Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:11) tell us that there are ten times in Jewish history that the Jews were counted. The first was when Yaakov and his family went down to Egypt with seventy people. The last counting will take place at the time of Mashiach. The Ramban states that there was a specific purpose and reason for each census. One was for the appointment of a new leader and one followed a large calamity, etc. However, he asks, in this instance, he cannot understand for what purpose Hashem desired a counting?! I would like to share and develop his most enlightening answer that he provides.
At this point in Jewish history, the Jews were finally free from Egypt, they were given the Torah and were on their way to Eretz Yisrael. Everything was great! The reason that Hashem counted them now was precisely for the purpose of showing them and letting them know their own number. This would help them appreciate all of the great kindness and love which Hashem had bestowed upon them in building them up from a small group of seventy meager people to a grand established nation of six hundred thousand able-bodied men! He wanted them to be moved to recognize Him by contemplating their present large population, which Hashem had developed and built!
Indeed, this is a powerful lesson for life. When we take a step back and take in all of the good that Hashem has provided us with, we are left inspired and recharged!
Chazal tell us that the באר, wellspring, that supplied water in the desert, came in the merit of Miriam. Chazal also tell us that this spring traveled with them and created an intricate water system that delivered water to every single tent individually. In what merit did Miriam bring this life giving arrangement, and why did it come to every door, could they not have went to a central place to receive it? Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:2) tell us that she earned this tool as a reward for leading the women in song at the time of the miracle of the splitting of the Yam Suf. She wanted to ensure that every single person from Klal Yisrael expressed gratitude to Hashem. Thus, Hashem correspondingly granted her water that would allow every Jew to thank Hashem at all times once again!
The Woman of Valor is described as “her mouth opens with wisdom; the teachings of kindness are on her tongue” (Mishlei 31:26). The Ralbag provides a beautiful insight in translating this verse. This special and spiritually sensitive woman builds her home on two foundations. Firstly, wisdom and secondly, kindness. Wisdom means the unrelenting dedication to following Hashem’s Torah. Kindness means that she teaches her children to see and recognize all of the kindness that Hashem bestows upon them. She lives her life to thank Hashem. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe tz”l says that these precise ingredients ensure a home’s success. When we create an atmosphere of the love of Torah and appreciation for all of Hashem’s gifts, we will have beauty and success in our home.
Indeed, this is the important lesson of why Hashem counted the Jews in our parsha. He set them up in a precise encampment arrangement and now He wanted them to recognize how much he did for them. Let us see all that Hashem does for us and let our hearts and mouths sing His praise!
In counting the Jews, the Levi’im were counted from age one month and on. The Torah considers the Levi to be one who performs the service of Hashem from the youngest age!
Reb Moshe Feinstein points out that this is a lesson for our Chinuch, Torah education. The Levi is one who dedicates his life to Torah, as the Rambam writes that Levi represents the people whose life was totally entrusted in Hashem’s hands. They were the Torah leaders of Klal Yisrael. Rambam continues that any person who accepts upon himself to live as a Levi is capable of doing so and Hashem will take great care of him as well.
Reb Moshe says that we see the importance of Chinuch from the youngest age. One should not exclude a child from Torah study stating that he is too young! One should recognize that our young children are highly influenced and moved by watching our actions and attitudes towards Yiddishkeit.
Indeed, studies have indicated that children, even as young infants are able to pick up things and learn powerful scripting lessons from their surroundings.
No thought on this topic would not be complete without a most important clarification: It is never too late! Avraham Aveinu got his Bris at age ninety-nine so that no one should ever say, “I’m too old to change!”
Rabbi Avi Shulman states, people tell me that they can’t change because, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. My response is to recognize that we are humans, not ‘dogs’, and Torah, Mitzvos and Emunah aren’t ‘tricks’, they are fulfilling life goals!
May we merit to internalize the beauty of Torah and Mitzvos at any age that we chose to open our hearts and minds!
Not Just A Statistic
Hashem told Moshe to count the Jews, “B’Mispar Sheimos, count their names (Bamidbar 1:2).” This language seems odd, counting implies numbers not individual names? Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l tells us that this shows how dearly important we are to Hashem in two ways. A brick in the wall is only important because without it the wall will fall. The brick itself has no individual importance. Similarly, when Bnei Yisrael went to war with Midyan each tribe sent one thousand soldiers. Each soldier was only a number that added up to the necessary total amount of troops needed to win the battle. If one soldier is missing the army is lacking and is not yet an army.
When a family has ten children, each child is a world him or herself. Each child is not just important because they are a member of the total family of ten. Each one has a name not a number. On the other hand if a child is missing there is still a family because the family was not based on a specific total number.
When Hashem wanted a count of the Bnei Yisroel, the Torah says B’Mispar Sheimos. Bnei Yisroel have value in their sum total, which causes Hashem’s Shechina to shine forth. If even one is lacking, then Bnei Yisrael is not Bnei Yisrael and cannot be a resting place for Hashem’s Shechina. Even so, each individual is a treasure in their own right. Each one has their own “name”.
Rabbeinu Bechaya (d. 1340) points out the juxtaposition of parshas Bamidbar to its predecessor, Bechukosai. He quotes a Midrash (Which we do not have extant. It should be noted that R’ Bechaya quotes many such Midrashim throughout his works, giving his writing even greater value for the access they provide to Midrashim that would otherwise be lost. He also set out to explain each parsha according to the Midrash (see his introduction). These two facts explain why some editions of R’ Bechaya actually use the title: “Midrash R’ Bechaya”. He quotes many Midrashim and he himself explain themes according to the Midrash) which states that the end of the Bechukosai discusses the prohibition of transferring holiness from one holy item to another leading into Bamidbar which counts each individual. The Midrash states that just as God is Unique and there is no possible swap for God, so too, each individual person is unique and there is no substitute. Hashem values each one of us. One should not be disheartened by the rebuke of Bechukosai, rather, one should recognize how much Hashem values us. Let us develop this theme.
In Bamidbar the tribe of Levi was singled out as the one dedicated and chosen for the service of Hashem. The Midrash teaches us that when one choses to get close to Hashem by even a small action, Hashem draws him even closer granting more opportunities for success. The Levites dedicated themselves to God at the time of the Golden Calf when they stood up for justice and now Hashem gave them the title of those close to Him. Levi was not unique in this privilege.
The verses tell us that the Jewish nation was situated in a manner that three tribes were on each of the four sides of the Levite and Shechina Camps. The Jews noticed that the angels had exact encampments when the Heavens opened up during the giving of the Torah. They also wanted to have exact encampments and formations. Hashem answered their request and instructed them to arrange their camps in an exact formation. This refers to the fact that each tribe had its place. The Jews did not simply see themselves as one overlapping unit, rather each tribe had its greatness to offer and express to the others. Judah’s tribe showed great leadership skills, Zevulan were great business men who valued Torah study and creative trade with the other nations. Each tribe had its specialty and most importantly, each person had his unique role as well. As we approach Shavuos, the holiday of Kabbalas Hatorah, accepting of the Torah, this lesson is of utmost importance. We must recognize that each person has a unique mission in life which only he or she can accomplish.