This week we begin a new Sefer of the Torah, and the Mefarshim have plenty to discuss on just the first few Pesukim. The Torah states, “VaYidabeir Hashem El Moshe BeMidbar Sinai BeOhel Mo’eid BeEchad Lachodesh HaSheini BaShanah HaSheinit LeTzeitam MeiEretz Mitrayim Leimor. Se’u Et Rosh Kol Adat Bnei Yisrael LeMishpechotam LeVeit Avotam BeMispar Sheimot Kol Zachar LeGulgelotam,” "Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert, in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the Exodus from the land of Egypt, saying: ‘Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers' houses; a head count of every male according to the number of their names’" (BeMidbar 1:1-2). The next few Pesukim go on to list all of the names. Many questions are asked on just these first two Pesukim.
The Ohr HaChaim notices an inconsistency in these Pesukim. When discussing the date of the conversation, the Torah records the more specific day and month, followed by the more general year. This stands in contrast to the place of Hashem’s command: The general “Midbar Sinai” is listed before the more specific “Ohel Mo’eid.” He presents an interesting solution to this difficulty. While the Midbar Sinai may include the physical area of the Tent of Meeting, God’s presence, which rests in the Ohel Mo’eid, is infinite in space. It is often difficult to remember that God is always larger than anything that we can make. Moshe understood this, and while building the Mishkan, he wondered how he could build something to contain the infinite spirit of God. Hashem helped alleviate Moshe's bewilderment by explaining that man can see only a bit of God's presence, which can be kept in one place. The human eye can see very little and the ear can hear only that which is close. Hashem shows us that even a little thing can contain an infinite amount of spirituality through this seeming reversed order in the text.
The Gemara (Bava Batra 11a) brings a story of King Munbaz, who was a rich philanthropist. His family criticized him for being so generous and often criticized him for wasting all of his money. He responded to his family that he wasn’t throwing it away; rather, he was investing in the world to come. While the money King Munbaz had to spend was only a small sum, the reward was infinite. We should strive to see the world as Moshe and King Munbaz did, and understand the relative importance of the physical word and the spiritual.
Broadly speaking, why does Hashem command that we count the people, and why is the census is recorded for posterity? Rashi provides an answer for these questions. He famously remarks that the counting of the people is one way in which Hashem expresses his love of the people. Similarly, a man will constantly count and recount that which he holds dear. Alternatively, Rashbam says that this count would and should have been the one to organize the people for the conquest of Israel. If not for the sin of the Meraglim in the middle of Sefer BeMidbar, Bnei Yisrael would have entered Eretz Yisrael soon after this count. This explanation is particularly pertinent today, as unfortunately, we must prepare to defend the borders of the State of Israel from those who seek to take over our homeland
These first Pesukim of Sefer BeMidbar truly embody the depth of Torah. Many lessons can be taken out of a seemingly simple command. Hopefully, we can internalize the messages contained within these verses.