At the end of this week’s Parsha, we learn that Bnei Kehat were responsible for transporting the vessels of the Kodesh and Kodesh HaKodashim, including the Aron, Shulchan, Menorah and Mizbeiach. But their privileges extended no further than carrying; they were not permitted to see any of these vessels, and they could not even decide which vessels each of them would carry. We are told in 4:19 that Aharon and his sons were instead instructed to distribute the vessels among the Bnei Kehat who had come to do the job of carrying.
The Seforno explains that if Bnei Kehat were given the opportunity to decide who would carry what, they would come to quarrel and fight over the job, which would be a terrible Chilul Hashem.
This explanation can be better appreciated in light of the accounts of this scene recorded by Chazal in Midrash Rabbah. One Midrash claims that the Bnei Kehat would do anything possible to avoid the task of carrying the Aron. They feared that they would be harshly punished for not doing the job with the immense respect the holy Aron deserved, and they would therefore opt for the less risky task of carrying one of the other vessels. However, another Midrash claims that the Bnei Kehat would do whatever possible to be awarded the task of carrying the Aron, for the great reward for successfully carrying the holiest of vessels was worth the risk.
According to the first Midrash, the Aron was the neglected vessel, while according to the second, the other vessels were neglected. But whether the Bnei Kehat flocked towards the great reward for properly carrying the Aron or ran from the terrible punishment for improperly carrying it (or both), we clearly see how important it was that Aharon and his sons responsibly assign who would carry which vessels. Only an objective supervisor who stood above the passion and trepidation of the moment could guarantee that all of the Mishkan’s vessels were shown the respect they deserved.
The responsibility of the Kohanim regarding Bnei Kehat parallels one of the great challenges Jewish communal leaders face – guiding their communities to approach Avodat HaShem with a sense of balance and equilibrium. It is easy for a community to devote enormous energy and attention to one type of mitzvah or spiritual endeavor and neglect another, equally important one. Conversely, it is common for segments of a community to shy away from Mitzvah endeavors that seem exclusive and intimidating. We place our trust in the Chochmei HaMesorah to help guide us towards achieving an appreciation of the totality of our Torah.
The Need for Numbers
by David Gross
The basic theme of this week’s Parsha is Hashem counting Bnei Yisrael. The obvious question about this topic is the timing: why did Hashem decide to count Bnei Israel specifically now? The Ramban gives several answers to this question. The last answer Ramban gives is that, quite simply, Bnei Yisrael grew too much since the last census. He also gives two deeper answers. The first is that Hashem counted us at this point because we were about to go into Eretz Yisrael and divide the land according to the numbers of people. Unfortunately, the incident of the Meraglim occurred immediately after this, so the nation was penalized and did not enter the Land at this point. Additionally, now was the perfect time to take a census because it gave each and every Jew the chance to meet with Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. This would then lift the spirit of all the Jews, which was especially necessary after the Chet HaEigel.
Rashi adds to our original question that Hashem had just counted Bnei Yisrael after leaving Egypt and after the Chet HaEigel, further decreasing the need for a census now. Rashi gives a fourth answer, that just as a shepherd counts his sheep to show how much he loves them, Hashem counts Bnei Yisrael here as a display of His great love for us. This answer also fits with the Ramban’s second answer, because this would also uplift Bnei Yisrael’s spirit after the Chet HaEigel.
No matter which way we understand this incident, we see clearly that Hashem’s actions, even when somewhat puzzling, are always for our benefit.
[Editors’ note: For further discussion of this topic, see
Ariel Caplan’s article on Bemidbar from Volume 13, Issue 33, available at www.koltorah.org.]
Keeping the Peace
by Ari Levine
The first Pasuk of Sefer Bamidbar says, “Vaydaber Hashem El Moshe BeMidbar Sinai,” “And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai.” We all know that Sinai was a part of the desert in which Bnei Yisrael were wandering, so why must the Pasuk say “BeMidbar Sinai” and not just “Sinai?”
The Gematria of the words Midbar Sinai is 376, which is also the Gematria of the word Shalom, peace. This can be related to Rashi's famous comment in Sefer Shemot regarding the use of a singular verb (“Vayichan” instead of “Vayachanu”) to describe Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai. In fact there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people present, but a singular verb is used because Bnei Yisrael were like one, in that they had one common interest: receiving the Torah. The Panim Yafot comments that the significance of the seemingly extra word Bemidbar, which alludes to peace, means that in order for Bnei Yisrael to receive the Torah, there must be peace amongst them.
It is very important for us, Am Yisrael, not to fight with each other, especially over what is currently happening in Gush Katif with the disengagement plan. Despite our disagreements, we must keep our composure and ensure that Shalom reigns amongst us. Let Parshat Bemidbar be a reminder to us to try to make peace with our fellow Jews, even if they do not share the same political views.
But He’s So Young!
by Avi Wollman
With regard to the counting of the Leviim, Parshat Bemidbar states, “Pekod Et Bnei Levi LeVeit Avotam LeMishpechotam, Kol Zachar MiBen Chodesh VaMalah Tifkedeim,” “Count the sons of Levi according to their fathers’ houses, according to their families, every male one month of age and up shall you count them” (3:15). However, concerning the rest of Bnei Yisrael, the Torah required that only those twenty years and older be counted, since they were old enough to serve in the army. The common explanation given (see Rashbam to Bemidbar 1:47 and Chizkuni to Bemidbar 1:49) for the difference between the Leviim and Bnei Yisrael is that since the members of Shevet Levi were spiritual and did not serve in the army, they were already counted at thirty days. However, it would seem that Leviim should be counted at thirty years, when they were old enough to serve in the Mishkan. Why does the Torah count the Leviim so early?
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that while the Leviim actually started to serve in the Mishkan at thirty years, their training truly began at thirty days. The Leviim were not just responsible for taking care of the Mishkan; they were also in charge of Bnei Yisrael’s spiritual well-being. Due to this consideration, they needed to start early in training for their role as spiritual leaders of the nation.
How often do we hear about famous athletes, musicians, and others who started developing their skills as soon as they were able? They did not just wait until they turned twenty, but often started under five years old! Similarly, we must realize that the task to educate the Levi does not begin near age thirty, but rather as young as thirty days. While this makes an excellent parenting Dvar Torah, I believe it applies in a much more general sense as well. We often say to ourselves, “I should really do that, but I'll wait till the summer/till I retire/a few years.” Hillel teaches us (Avot 2:5) that this is the wrong way to think. “Al Tomar LiChSheEfneh Eshneh, Shema Lo Tipaneh,” “Do not say, ‘When I have free time, I will change,’ lest you have no free time.” The Torah teaches us that we should not put off tasks until a time that we feel will be more convenient for us, but rather we should begin immediately. Even if we will definitely be able to accomplish the task later, it will certainly not be with the same enthusiasm, attention to detail, and effectiveness.
If a thirty-day-old infant is considered ready to begin his path to greatness, you're definitely ready, too.
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