BaMidbar (In the desert): Numbers 1:1–4:20; 1 Samuel 20:18-42
On this Shabbat, as always the Sabbath before Shavout, we start the fourth book of the Torah with the words “BaMidbar Sinai…” which means “In the Sinai desert.”
In the second month of the second year after the Exodus, God instructed for the third time to take a census of the people of Israel in the Sinai desert. Because of that the fourth book is called the book of Numbers.
That God is counting his people from time to time expresses his infinite love and divine providence. The people of Israel were counted for the first time when they still were in Egypt (Exodus 12:37) and another time after they built the Golden Calf, to show how many were left. Now they are counted a third time, when His presence dwells among them (Numbers 1:46).
For God, everything has to have order. First, the camp was organized and then they went on with their journey.
All the men of the 12 tribes over the age of 20 – those who could enter the army - were counted in the order of the 12 tribes: Reuben, Simon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Gad and Naphtali.
The tribe Levi, that has a special status, is not counted since they were not called to serve in the army, but to serve God! (Numbers 1:47-48). (The Levites were designated to serve in the tabernacle: “Anyone else who approaches it is to be put to death.”) To get the full number of 12 tribes the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, were counted separately.
After the death of the two sinful sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, the Lord commanded: “Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him.” And so the Levites became a part of the house of priests and complemented the offspring of Aaron. Some orthodox Jews that don’t serve in the army today refer to their affiliation to the tribe of Levi.
The total of the counted soldiers called to the army was 603,550 men. Altogether the Israelites counted approximately 2 million. Two years before, at the time of the Exodus, they were exactly 600,000 men. Interesting to know Israeli population at the time of the founding of the state in the years 1947-48 was also around 600,000. It’s a unique number!
The tribe of Judah was the largest with 76,600 men. The smallest tribe was the tribe of Benjamin after Manasseh with only 35,400 men. The first king of Israel, King Saul, came from the tribe of Benjamin and the messianic house of David emanates from the tribe of Judah.
The separate counting of the three big Levite families Gershon, Kehat and Merari totaled 22,273 Levites, but the counting included each male firstborn over the age of one month. Here the relatives of Moses are mentioned: the family Amram of the house of the father Kehat.
The 12 tribes encamped in four groups of three in all four directions around the tabernacle. The Levites settled in the inner circle close to the tabernacle. God’s presence in the midst of his people was also physically the center representing the spiritual heart of the Jewish people!
In chapter 4, we read that the priestly service is supposed to start at the age of 30. These points to Yeshua, our Messiah and today’s high priest, who started his work in this world at that very age.
– Michael Schneider –