In this week’s Parasha, Parashat BeMidbar, the Torah tells us that a census of the Jewish people was taken a short while before the Jews were supposed to enter Eretz Yisrael. When describing the nature of the count, the Torah focuses on the word “LeMishpechotam,” “According to their families.” Rashi comments that this word is written in order to denote a difference between the counting that occurred in this week’s Parasha and the first counting in Sefer Shemot. In BeMidbar’s census, every Sheivet was counted individually and only afterwards was the overall census of Klal Yisrael reported. In Sefer Shemot, the number of people in all of Klal Yisrael was recorded, and the Torah did not list the breakdown of the numbers in each individual Sheivet. Why were Bnei Yisrael counted as one unit in Sefer Shemot as opposed to the Sheivet by Sheivet approach taken in Parashat BeMidbar?
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky answers that before the building of the Mishkan, which occurred between the censuses, Hashem worried that Jews would begin to identify themselves with their Shevatim alone and would not consider all of Bnei Yisrael a collective unit. However, after the building of the Mishkan, it was very clear to Klal Yisrael where their focus must be - at the spiritual center of Judaism, the Mishkan, where all Jews met to worship Hashem together. Therefore, there was no longer any risk that Klal Yisrael would separate into small individual groups. What remains unclear is why it was necessary in the first place to have separate Shevatim in Klal Yisrael. Would it not have been better to have one large group of Jews as opposed to having to deal with separate sections of Jews?
An answer is often given for this question based on an occurrence that is especially prevalent today. Different people often worship Hashem in different ways. There are those who prefer to sing and dance their way through Davening while enjoying an intense Deveikut, or spiritual connection, with Hashem. Conversely, there are those who prefer to have a slightly faster Davening and spend more time learning, delving deeply into the innermost workings of the Torah. So too, there were different Shevatim for different methods of worshipping Hashem. Every Sheivet had its own styles and unique Minhagim that separated it from the other Shevatim. In the early stages of Am Yisrael, the risk of having separate Shevatim was great and the reward was minimal. Under these conditions, Bnei Yisrael had to be counted as one group. However, as time passed and Klal Yisrael became more interconnected, the great reward of having separate Shevatim with separate Minhagim far outweighed the possible risks.