Weekly Reading Insights:  Bamidbar

Overview of the Weekly Reading

Torah: Numbers 1:1-4:20;
Haftorah: Hosea 2:1-22 (begins: "The numbers of the Children of Israel")

Bamidbar begins by relating how Moshe, Aharon, and a prince from each tribe took a census of the Jews (the tribe of Levi was excluded from this census). Then, G-d explains the Levite service in taking apart and reassembling the Tabernacle during the Jews’ travels in the desert. Then is described the location of each tribe’s encampment. The next section deals with the genealogy of Aharon; the status of the Levites in assisting the priests’ service in the Tabernacle; and the Levites taking the place of the firstborn (who were originally intended to serve in the Tabernacle, but lost this privilege by sinning with the golden calf.) Then, G-d commands Moshe to take a census of the Levites, a census of the firstborns, and redeem the firstborns who were in excess of the Levites. The concluding section describes the Tabernacle duties of the Kehos family of Levites.


"The L-rd spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting." (1:1)
"In the wilderness of Sinai" teaches that a Jew should be as humble as Mount Sinai, the smallest of all the mountains; "in the Tent of Meeting" teaches that he should be joyous, as the word for "Meeting," "Moed," also means festival. The greater one's humility, the more genuine joy he will experience at having merited to be able to serve G-d.
(Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk)

"G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai." (1:1)
The Midrash relates that G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people via fire, water, and in the desert, to teach us how a Jew merits to acquire its learning: Fire is symbolic of the fiery enthusiasm and craving for G-dliness that exists within the heart of every Jew; water is symbolic of the temperance and clarity of thought necessary for Torah study; and the desert symbolizes the need to put aside all worldly pleasures that might interfere with the attainment of perfection.
(Shem MiShmuel)

"G-d spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert…." (1:1)
The first Reading in Bamidbar always precedes the festival of Shavuot. This teaches us that whoever fulfills the Torah can change the face of the desert from barrenness to a green paradise, as it is written, "He will place in the desert like a paradise, like the garden of G-d."
(Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin - translated from Sichat HaShavuah #486)

"Take the sum of all the congregation of the Children of Israel." (1:2)
According to Jewish law, "Once an object has been counted it can never become nullified, even in a quantity of a thousand." Because G-d did not want the Jewish people to become lost among the world's non-Jewish majority, He counted them to make sure it can never happen.
(Chidushei HaRim)

When a count is taken, no distinctions are made between what is being counted. The great and the small are both equal, each having the value of one. The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the holiday on which the Torah was actually given on Mount Sinai, for all Jews stand equal on that day. Our Sages said that if even one Jew had been missing, the Torah would never have been given!
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"Count by heads the entire population of the Israelites." (1:2)
Our main feature is our heads. In other body aspects, the nations may be superior, but if you want to find good heads and brains, go to the Jews.
Maggid of Koznitz [translated from Sichat HaShavuah #384]

"Count the entire community.....each skull" (1:2)
The usage of the word 'skull' hints at the aspect of 'above understanding', since the skull is around the brain and encompasses it. The Jewish people were instructed in this verse to rise to the level of 'skull' - the love of G-d beyond intellect.
(Likutei Torah - translated from Sichat HaShavuah 229)

"Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses." (1:2)
In order to know the number of people in each tribe, first they were counted according to their families and then each member of the family was counted. This shows us the importance of the family. The existence of the Jewish people is based on and dependant on the actions of each family.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"By their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names." (1:2)
The circumstance that the Jews succeeded in preserving the purity of their families and their pedigrees through such a long and oppressive exile as their sojourn in Egypt, where they were enslaved and outlawed, was due to the fact that they zealously clung to those characteristics which set them apart from the other nations and that they refrained from any conduct that would have led to assimilation. They made no concession whatever to the alien environment in which they lived, refusing even to change their names. This way of living kept them from losing their identity and merging with the people in whose midst they dwelt. The fact that they kept their own names ("according to the number of names") enabled them to be counted "by their families, by their fathers' houses."
(Melo HaOmer - from "Wellsprings of Torah")

"From 20 years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel." (1:3)
A person becomes fully responsible for his acts at the age of 20, when the real battle with the evil inclination first begins. At that age, one is considered sufficiently equipped to be "able to go out to war" against the evil inclination and win.
(Admor of Gur)

"…every one head of his father's house…" (Num. 1:4)
Two men were quarrelling, and in the course of the quarrel one accused the other of not being of good family. To this, the other man retorted: "You may be of good family, but your lineage ends with you, while mine begins with me."
This is the implication of the phrase "each one head of his father's house." His lineage did not end with him; instead, it was he who began a new family of noble lineage. The families which these men founded were able to declare their pedigrees after them.
(Rabbi M. Chafetz - from "Wellsprings of Torah")

"The total number of all those counted was six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty." (1:46)
What significance has this census, considering that as time went by uncountable more Jews were added to this number? Nevertheless, the number of soul roots of the Jews in heaven is six hundred thousand, and because of this there was also on earth this number of Jews. The heavenly number is eternal. That in future generations there were millions of Jews in the world at any one time is because from these "root souls" many other souls branched off.
(from Sefer HaMaamarim 5675 - translated from Sichat HaShavuah #75)

"The Levites shall keep charge of the Sanctuary of Testimony." (1:53)
The Levites, whose job it was to "guard" the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple, were counted in the census from the age of one month. But how can a one-month-old infant possibly "keep the charge of the Sanctuary of Testimony"? The concept of "guarding" the holiness of the Sanctuary refers to spiritual guardianship, not physical protection. The Levites served not by virtue of their physical prowess or outstanding bravery, but because of their high spiritual stature, something that even a small baby had already inherited.
(Lichutei Sichot)

"Each person to his flag with signs for the house of their ancestors." (2:2)
Every individual must ask himself, "When will my deeds reach the level of those of my ancestors?" Our goal should be that our forefathers' achievements will act as a "signpost" for our own actions.
(Sefat Emet)


At Mount Sinai, we consecrated ourselves to G-d as His bride, the first stage of our marriage. Our bond with Him will be complete only in the era of Mashiach, at which time G-d and Israel will unite completely. For 33 centuries, we have been creating the "space" of our marriage with G-d and zealously defending its borders. We have remained faithful to Him in the face of all the cultures and "isms" that have sought to seduce us. We have established our identity as His people, consecrated to Him alone. Now we are ready for the real thing - for an actual experience of the divine as the most intimate truth of our lives.
(From The Week in Review by Rabbi Yanki Tauber)

"Take a census of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel." (Numbers 1:2)
Our Sages note that the giving of the Torah at Sinai required the presence of all 600,000 Jews; if just one had been missing, the Torah would not have been given. Parshat Bamidbar is always read before Shavuot, the day on which the Torah was given, to remind us of this principle. Furthermore, it reminds us that it was not enough for all Jews to be present; it was necessary that the Jewish people be united in love for one another. "Israel camped there [before Mount Sinai] as one man with one mind." This peace and unity is the channel for all Divine blessings, including the greatest of all -- the coming of Mashiach.
(Peninei HaGeula) [Reprinted with permission from L'Chaim Magazine (www.lchaim.org).]

"I will enter into a treaty on their behalf with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, and the creeping creatures of the earth [not to harm anyone]. I will eliminate the bow, sword, and [even] warfare [itself[ from the land and will make them rest safely." (Hoshaia 2:20-- this week's Haftorah)
(From Metzudat David as published in "The Midrash Says")(From Lchaim #1022)


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