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 Bamidbar from Volume 13, Issue 33, available at

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