Count Me Out by Josh Lehman


As Bnei Yisrael leave Har Sinai, Hashem speaks to Moshe, telling him to take a census of the Jewish people. Hashem tells Moshe (BeMidbar 1:2), “Se’u Et Rosh Kol Adat Bnei Yisrael LeMishpechotam LeVeit Avotam BeMispar Sheimot Kol Zachar LeGulgelotam,” “Take a census of the entire assembly of Bnei Yisrael according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names, every male according to their head count.” Earlier in the Torah, though, Hashem states that the Jews will be like the stars in the sky, immeasurable and impossible to count (BeReishit 15:5). Thus, Hashem seems to be making an odd contradiction of Himself. At first He says that the Jews will be too numerous to be counted, while in Parashat BeMidbar Hashem goes ahead and tells Moshe to count the Jews.

The Gemara resolves this contradiction, explaining that when the Jews listen to and follow Hashem they are unable to be counted, and when they don’t listen to and don’t follow Hashem they are capable of being counted. This explains why the Jews are countable in this week’s Parashah; they are a nation that is post-Eigel HaZahav, and therefore on a low enough level to be considered capable of being counted, even months after Hashem forgives the nation for its sin.

This answer given by the Gemara immediately sparks another question. According to the Chachamim, despite Hashem telling Moshe to not count the Levi’im (BeMidbar 1:49), they are in fact counted, just separately from the rest of Bnei Yisrael. However, as the only tribe to not participate in the Cheit HaEigel, shouldn’t the Levi’im be on a higher level than the rest of Bnei Yisrael and therefore not be subject to the census? Even if they are secluded from the rest of the census, why are the Levi’im counted at all?

A possible explanation for the counting of the Levi’im and their seclusion from the standard counting, as introduced by the Gemara, is that since the Levi’im treat Hashem as their only God and make Him One regarding Cheit HaEigel, Hashem, in return, makes the Levi’im an exclusive tribe. Because the Levi’im value the oneness of Hashem, they merit becoming a tribe separate from the rest of the nation.

When we say that Hashem is One, we mean that He is the only One and our only God. Nothing can exist without Hashem because He is the only true Creator. We don’t say that Hashem is the First because that would imply that there can be a second or a third; rather, we say that Hashem is One, meaning that He is the only possible Creator. The tribe of Leivi is the only tribe that fully comprehends this crucial understanding, and therefore it is fitting that only the Levi’im are counted alone. This doesn’t imply that Levi’im should be separate from the rest of Bnei Yisrael when counted, nor does it mean that they shouldn’t be counted at all; rather, the Levi’im are counted in the way that they count Hashem; as unique and one of a kind.

When the Gemara states that those who follow Hashem are too great to count, it doesn’t mean that they are too numerous to count; rather, it means that they, much like Hashem, are above being counted as a comparison to others. Perhaps this is why the Levi’im aren’t counted with the rest of Bnei Yisrael – they are intended to be examples for the rest of the nation. They stand out as a good examples regarding Cheit HaEigel, and Hashem deems them worthy of seclusion from the rest of the nation months later. By doing this, Hashem not only rewards the Levi’im, but demonstrates the importance of truly believing that Hashem is One.

There is Stealing and There is Stealing by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein

Anonymity and Recognition in Megilat Rut by Rabbi Duvie Nachbar