"And G-d spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai." (1:1)
QUESTION: Why did Hashem give the Torah in a wilderness?
Since the wilderness is essentially ownerless, no one can claim it. By this choice of location, Hashem was hinting to us that the Torah belongs equally to everyone.
QUESTION: Why, however, was the Torah given not only in an ownerless place, but in a desolate place, "a dry and weary land without water" (Psalms, 63:2) — a place without clothing, food and water?
The Jewish people left Egypt and went to a wilderness, an uncultivated land, for the purpose of receiving the Torah. They did not know how they would manage. In the wilderness they obtained the manna in the merit of Moshe, the pillar of the clouds, which miraculously protected them cleaned and altered their clothing to size, in the merit of Aharon, and water in the merit of Miriam (Ta'anit
This serves as a moral lesson for us; one must study Torah and rely entirely on Hashem. He will then provide all that is needed materially and spiritually.
Alternatively, a person whose spiritual landscape is a "wilderness" can be elevated and refined through Torah until he is comparable to a flourishing oasis.
The word "bamidbar" can be read as two words "bam dabeir" — "in them you should talk." This idea appears also in the Gemara (Yoma 19b) as commentary on the words "Vedibarta bam," "Speak of them," i.e. of Torah — and not devarim beteilim, idle or forbidden talk.
"And G-d spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai." (1:1)
QUESTION: Sinai was a part of the wilderness in which the Jews sojourned for forty years. Why does it say "Bemidbar Sinai" — "In the Wilderness of Sinai" — and not just "Sinai?"
The words "Midbar Sinai"
have the numerical value of 376, which is the same as the word "shalom."
When the Jews arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah we are told that, "Vayichan sham Yisrael"
— "And Israel encamped there" (Shemot
19:2). Rashi writes that the word "Vayichan"
is in the singular to teach us that the Jewish people were "like one person with one desire." A prerequisite for receiving the Torah was shalom
The Gemara (Zevachim 116b) relates that, when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people, His mighty voice was heard throughout the entire world and all the kings were gripped with fear. They gathered around the prophet Bilaam and asked, "What is the meaning of this mighty roar? Perhaps there is another flood coming to the world!"
Bilaam replied that Hashem had a valuable treasure which he had safeguarded for 974 generations before creation and was now giving it to His children, as stated in the verse "G-d will give might (Torah) to His nation" (Psalms 29:11).
Immediately, they all responded "G-d will bless His nation with peace," (ibid.).
Why did the nations of the world think another flood was coming?
The prophet, speaking of the miraculous events of the days of Mashiach, states that "the wolf will dwell together with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6). This also occurred in Noach's Ark; what is unique about the days of Mashiach?
In Noach's time the whole world was in danger of destruction. In such circumstances there is no time for fighting, and enemies naturally become allies and struggle together for survival. In the days of Mashiach there will be universal prosperity and peace. Unfortunately, in tranquil times, people often find time to quarrel.
The prophet therefore foretells the miracle that will occur in the days of Mashiach, when everyone will have all they need in an abundance. Even then there will be absolute peace, and the wolf and lamb will live together.
Concerning the preparations for receiving the Torah, it is stated, "Vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar" — "And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain" (Shemot 19:2). Rashi explains that the word "Vayichan," in singular, teaches us that the great multitude encamped as a single person with a single desire.
Upon witnessing such unity, the nations of the world came to Bilaam fearing another flood and wondering if the Jews had united out of fear. Bilaam told them, "What you are witnessing is true unity. G-d is giving them the Torah, which will be their source of strength and which will unite them with common goals of study and observance."
Upon hearing this, the nations exclaimed, "We realize G-d will bless His people with peace; through Torah they will have a blessing of peace and not peace necessitated by crisis."
"And G-d spoke to Moshe, in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after their exodus from the land of Egypt." (1:1)
QUESTION: Why does the Torah emphasize that the Tent of Meeting, in which Hashem spoke to Moshe, was in the Wilderness of Sinai?
ANSWER: Parshat Bamidbar
is usually read on the Shabbat
, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai (Megillah
. Midrash Rabbah
(1:7) states that the Torah was accompanied with the following:
- Fire, as indicated by the verse, "All of Mount Sinai was smoking, because G-d descended upon it in fire" (Shemot 19:18).
- Water, as indicated by the verse, "Even the heavens trickled, even the clouds dripped water" (Judges 5:4).
- Wilderness, as our pasuk states, "And G-d spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai."
Why was the Torah given under such conditions and not on a serene day and in a populated area?
Each of the above portrays an eternal and profound message to the Jewish people about the correct approach to Torah:
- The fire teaches us that the Torah should be studied and practiced with warmth and vigor.
- Water fulfills a physical need, but unlike other physical needs, people have little desire to overindulge in it and are usually satisfied to simply quench their thirst. This teaches us to be satisfied with our material circumstances and indulge entirely in the study of Torah.
- A wilderness is an abandoned property where everyone is free to go. Giving the Torah in a wilderness teaches us an important lesson, that to succeed in Torah study a person must be very humble and consider himself insignificant. He should permit all Jews to associate with him and not arrogantly reject certain individuals.
In the Gemara (Eiruvin
54a) Rava homiletically explains the pasuk "Umimidbar mattanah umimattanah nachali'el uminchali'el bamot"
(21:18, 19) as follows: "Umimidbar"
— if a person conducts himself as a "wilderness" which everybody treads upon (i.e., he is humble), then "matanah"
— the Torah — will be granted to him as a gift, and once it is given to him as a gift, "nachali'el"
— it becomes his inheritance from Hashem — and once Hashem makes it his inheritance, "bamot"
— he will rise to heights.
Alternatively, fire and water are opposites. Fire represents destruction and impoverishment, while water represents affluence and enrichment: "Water makes all sorts of enjoyment and delights grow" (Tanya, ch. 1, based on R. Chaim Vital, Sha'arei Kedushah I:2).
Hashem gave the Torah with fire and water to teach the Jewish people that if a person is, G-d forbid, experiencing deprivation he must study and observe Torah. On the other hand, one who is blessed with affluence must also study Torah and live by its teachings.
The giving of Torah in a wilderness teaches us that Torah observance is not limited to any specific location. Even if one resides in a neighborhood which is a spiritual wilderness — i.e. distant from large orthodox communities — he is not exempt from studying and observing Torah.
Another lesson to be derived from the giving of the Torah with fire is the following: The nature of fire is to rise upwards. Similarly, a person must strive to go from strength to strength, ever higher in his adherence to Torah.
"G-d spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after their exodus from the land of Egypt." (1:1)
QUESTION: Why did Hashem give the Torah while the Jews were still in the wilderness rather than wait until after they arrived in their own land, Eretz Yisrael?
32a) relates that Alexander the Great put ten questions to the elders of the South. One of the questions was, "Were the heavens created first or the earth?" They replied, "Heaven was created first, as the Torah states, 'In the beginning of G-d's creating the heaven and the earth' " (Bereishit
Why did Alexander the Great want to know the order of creation?
As a great philosopher and student of Aristotle, Alexander was understandably interested in the Jewish perspective of creation. However, the intent of his question here was much more profound. Alexander was the most powerful king of his times, and his goal of conquering the entire world was almost realized. Heaven represents spirituality and earth represents material pursuits. He was uncertain whether to pursue the physical acquisition of the world or to spiritually uplift the part of the world already under his control.
Unable to decide, he turned to our sages for counsel. They responded that when G-d created the world, He created heaven first, indicating that spiritual values are pre-eminent.
Therefore, Hashem gave the Torah in the wilderness prior to the arrival of the Jews in their own land to emphasize the superiority of Torah (spirituality) over land (physicality). The nations of the world who refused to accept the Torah became extinct with the loss of their lands. The Jews, however, exist forever, even without a land, as long as they keep the Torah.
"Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel." (1:2)
QUESTION: Bamidbar is known as "Sefer Hapekudim" — "The Book of Numbers" — because in it a census of the Jewish people is taken twice. Why were the Jewish people counted?
When non-kosher food gets mixed with kosher food there are various laws regarding its nullification so that the kosher food becomes permitted again. Sometimes it is sufficient merely for the kosher food to be a majority (bitul berov)
and in other cases the minority becomes nullified in a majority which is 60 times larger (bitul beshishim)
. However, there is a Rabbinic ruling that "Davar shebeminyan afilu be'elef lo batul"
— a thing which is sold by individual count is considered so significant that it cannot become nullified regardless of the quantity of the food with which it is mixed. (See Mishnah Orlah
3:6,7 and Beitzah
Hashem knew very well that the Jewish people's sojourn in the wilderness was temporary. They would continue to Eretz Yisrael and, years later, would be dispersed to all corners of the world. Eventually, Jews would be a small minority in some communities. By counting each Jew, Hashem designated him as a "valued entity" and thus, regardless, of how greatly outnumbered the Jewish people might be, they would retain their identity and never be assimilated, G-d forbid.
"Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel." (1:2)
QUESTION: Rashi comments that Hashem always counts the Jewish people because of His love for them.
What lesson can we learn from the counting of the Jewish people?
There are different levels of observance among the Jews. Some are strictly observant while others, unfortunately, do not follow Torah precepts. A person may belittle the worth of another, less observant Jew, saying: "Er is a gornisht"
— "He is a nothing!"
When Hashem commanded Moshe to count the Jewish people, He instructed him to count each Jew as "one," no more and no less. Hashem's message was that the Jewish people are His children; each one is equally beloved and possesses a spark of G-dliness, his neshamah. Thus, no one should be discounted.
"Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel ... and they established their genealogy." (1:2,18)
QUESTION: Sefer Vayikra ends with the statement "These are the commandments that G-d commanded Moshe to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai" (27:34).
It is customary to look for connections between adjacent Torah passages and especially between the end of one book and the beginning of the next. What, then, is the connection between the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People and the counting of the Jews Parshat Bamidbar?
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni
684) relates that when the Jews were receiving the Torah, the other nations asked Hashem, "Why are You giving the Torah only to the Jews? We also want the Torah!" Hashem told them that they should bring their sefer yuchsin
— records of family pedigree — to Him, just as His children — the Jews — were bringing their sefer yuchsin
to Him, as stated, "and they established their genealogy" (see Rashi).
What was Hashem's intent in requesting the sefer yuchsin of the other nations?
This can be explained with the following parable: A man's biological son and his foster son became ill, and the doctor prescribed bitter medicines for both children. The father forced his biological son to swallow the medicine and he immediately felt better. The foster son, however, was not forced to take the medicine, and the illness lingered on. Later, the foster son asked his father why he had not also forced him to take the medicine. The father answered, "Once before when you were sick and the doctor gave you sweet medicine, I forced you to drink it. Since you spat it out then, I assumed that any attempt to force you to drink bitter medicine would have been in vain."
Hashem's reply to the nations of the world was "I have already given you a 'sweet' Torah of only seven commandments and your book of heritage indicates your parents' record of poor observance. However, the Jews' sefer yuchsin depicts the devotion of their forefathers and establishes them as worldly recipients of the Torah."
Thus, the counting of the Jewish people based on their sefer yuchsin in the beginning of Bamidbar follows the end of Vayikra to indicate that Hashem gave the Torah and mitzvot to the Children of Israel because of their sefer yuchsin — their parents' good record of fulfilling mitzvot the past.
"Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel... every male according to their head count." (1:2)
QUESTION: Why is the word "legulgelotam" — "according to their head count" — used in connection with the general census, but not for counting the tribe of Levi? (See 3:15.)
The word "legulgelotam"
literally means "according to their heads," and can thus refer to a person with two heads. The question then arises: Should he be counted as one person or two?
The Gemara (Menachot 37a) relates that Pelimo asked Rebbe on which head a two-headed person should put his tefillin. Rebbe considered the question impudent and told him to either go into exile or suffer excommunication. Underlying Rebbe's harsh reaction was the view that such a person is a "treifah," one who cannot survive more than twelve months, much less to the age of putting on tefillin.
Consequently, regarding the Jewish community at large, which was counted from the ages of twenty to sixty, this question could never apply (thus, calling the census a "head count" cannot create any problem since every adult has only one head). However, for the Levites, who were counted from the age of thirty days, the question does apply. Therefore, the Torah omitted the word "legulgelotam" for the tribe of Levi, to indicate that regardless of how many heads a Levite may have, he should be counted only once.
"And with you there shall be a man of every tribe, a man who is the leader of his father's household." (1:4)
QUESTION: Why is the word "ish" repeated at the beginning of the pasuk and mentioned only once at the end?
All those counted in the census between the ages of twenty and sixty ultimately died in the wilderness because of the sin of the spies. Only two, Yehoshua and Kaleiv, survived to enter Eretz Yisrael
, and of these two, Yehoshua succeeded Moshe as the leader of K'lal Yisrael
Thus, the Torah declares, "Ve'itchem yiheyu — eventually there will remain from you, ish ish — two men (Kaleiv and Yehoshua) — and from these two, ish — one man (Yehoshua) — rosh lebeit avotav hu — will become the head (the leader) of the households of Israel."
"A man of every tribe each the head of his father's household he shall be." (1:4)
QUESTION: Doesn't the word "hu" — "he shall be" — seem extra?
Several Chassidic Rebbes were once sitting together around a table. Each one of them related a Torah thought in the name of his holy father. The greatest Rebbe of the group was the son of a simple baker, and when his turn came he said, "My father the baker taught me that fresh bread is better and healthier than stale bread."
The thought behind his words was that, while it is nice to have prominent parents, it is more important for each individual to have his own achievements.
When Moshe is instructed to take a census of the Jewish people, he is told to take a group of prominent men with him, each one the head of his family — not simply because of his parents but because "hu" — "he shall be" — on his own merit.
"These were the ones summoned by the community, the princes of their fathers' tribes, the heads of Israel's thousands." (1:16)
QUESTION: Why is the word "keri'ei" in the phrase "keri'ei ha'eidah" — "summoned by the community" — written here with a yud, while, when referring to Korach's assembly, the word "keri'ei" in "keri'ei mo'eid" — "summoned for meeting" (16:2) — is written without the yud?
The letter yud
has the numerical value of 10 and indicates the plural. In the Hebrew grammar, yud
changes singular to plural. For example, the word "nasi"
means "prince," and with a yud
added — "nesi'ei"
— it means "princes."
The group of people selected to accompany Moshe in taking the census was motivated solely for the sake of Heaven and for the benefit of the nation. Thus, they merited to be referred to with a yud, indicating that they were selfless servants of the Jewish people.
Korach's followers, on the other hand, opposed the interests of K'lal Yisrael. Each one was motivated by selfishness and was unconcerned with for the general welfare. Since they were inspired by personal gain, the phrase describing them lacks the yud.
"And they established their genealogy according to their families, according to their fathers' household." (1:18)
QUESTION: Rashi comments: "They brought the documents of their pedigrees."
How much value should be attached to yichus — pedigree?
When Rabbi DovBer of Mezritch was a young boy of 5 or 6 years, he once came home from cheider
and saw his house burning down and his mother crying bitterly. To comfort her he said, "Mommy, please don't cry, Hashem will give us a bigger, nicer home."
His mother replied, "Berele, I am not crying because of our home, but because of our document of ancestry, which describes our beautiful family tree. Now, because of the fire, we no longer have it."
Upon hearing this, young Berele said, "Even this is not a reason to cry: if our old yichus letter was destroyed, with G-d's help, a new yichus will start with me."
While yichus is something that we should cherish and be proud of, we must not simply live off the "royalties" of yichus, but add new greatness to our families.
"Their count, for the tribe of Yissachar: 54,400...Their count, for the tribe of Zevulun: 57,400." (1:29,31)
QUESTION: Why did Yissachar have, in round thousands, 54,000 and Zevulun 57,000?
The tribe of Yissachar primarily stressed Torah study, becoming the judges who would make all legal decisions in Torah matters and teach the complex regulations concerning the fixing of leap years. The tribe of Zevulun mainly pursued business and supported the people of Yissachar in exchange for a share of the merit in their Torah study. (See Bereishit
The word "dan" — "judging" — has the numerical value of 54, and Yissachar, who was involved with judgment, thus appropriately had 54,000 members. Zevulun was the "zan" — provider of sustenance — for the tribe of Yissachar, and since the word "zan" is numerically equivalent to 57, the tribe of Zevulun numbered 57,000.
"These are the countings that Moshe and Aharon counted... These were all the countings of the Children of Israel... everyone who goes out to war... All their countings were six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty." (1:44-46)
QUESTION: Why does each pasuk mention the "countings?"
discuss three reasons for counting the Jews:
- The first pasuk speaks of Moshe and Aharon doing the counting. Each Jew had the opportunity to personally come with his "half shekel" to Moshe, the greatest of the prophets, and his holy brother Aharon. It was a privilege to mention their names to these tzaddikim, who would look upon them with their holy eyes and pray to Hashem on their behalf.
- If not for the sin of the spies, the Jewish people would have immediately entered Eretz Yisrael. Their entry would have involved fighting the inhabitants and conquering the land. Consequently, it was necessary to take count of "everyone who goes out to war," to determine how many Jews were eligible to join the army.
- Originally a family consisting of seventy souls descended to Egypt, and after only two hundred and ten years a large and powerful nation emerged: "All their countings were six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty." The miraculous growth of the Jewish people demonstrated Hashem's great love for them.
"You shall appoint the Levites over the Tabernacle of Testimony, over all its vessels and everything that belongs to it. They shall carry the Tabernacle and all its vessels and they shall minister to it." (1:50)
QUESTION: The popular Hebrew term for "they" is "heim," why does the pasuk say "heimah"?
According to halachah
(Rambam, K'lei Hamikdash
3:7-8) a Levite cannot enter into the service until he has completed five years of training, and when he reaches the age of fifty, he is no longer qualified to transport the vessels of the Sanctuary. In the word 'heimah'
the extra hei
, which has the numerical value of five, alludes to the five years of training and apprenticeship required before a Levite can assume a position of service in the Mishkan
The word "heimah" itself, which has the numerical value of fifty, indicates that a Levi can carry the Mishkan and its vessels only until he reaches the age of fifty.
QUESTION: The word "veheim" — "and they [shall minister to it]" — is superfluous. Could the pasuk not have said, "veyeshartuhu" — "and minister to it?"
The Torah instruction that "From fifty years of age he shall withdraw from the legion of work and no longer work" (8:25) means only that he is forbidden to bear the Mishkan
and its vessels on his shoulders, but he continues to perform the rest of the Levitical service, such as closing the Temple gates, loading the wagons, and singing (see Rashi and Rambam, ibid.).
The word "veheim" has the numerical value of fifty-one. The Torah is intimating that when the Levites begin their fifty-first year, although they stop carrying the Mishkan, they continue serving with the other Levites.
"Each man at his banner according to the insignias of their fathers' household shall the Children of Israel encamp." (2:2)
QUESTION: How did the encampment structure of the Jewish people originate?
The Jews traveled in the wilderness in four groups, each group consisting of three tribes, and each with its own banner. The system of banners was set up through Yaakov. When Yaakov asked to be buried in Eretz Yisrael
he taught his children the marching formation for carrying his coffin.
When Yaakov gave his berachot to Menasheh and Ephraim, it says that, "vayasem et Efraim lifenei Menasheh" — "he placed Ephraim before Menasheh" (Bereishit 48:20). Rashi comments: "lehakdimo bedegalim" — to place Ephraim before Menasheh in the formation of the banners. Therefore, in the formation to the west, Ephraim was the leader and Menasheh followed behind him (2:18,20).
It is interesting to note that the words "vayasem et Efraim lifenei Menasheh" have the numerical value of 1653, the same as the numerical value of the words v'chanu bnei Yisrael ish al machano v'ish al d'galo — "The Children of Israel shall encamp, every man at his camp and every man at his banner" (1:52).
"Each man at his banner according to the insignias of his fathers' household...." (2:2)
QUESTION: What is the connection between the fathers and the banners?
On the banner of Yehudah were the letters alef-yud-yud
, the first letters of the names of the Patriarchs of the Jewish people (Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov)
. On Reuven's banner were the second letters of these names, beit-tzaddik-ayin
. On Ephraim's banner were the third letters of the names, reish-chet-kuf
, and on Dan's banner, were the letters mem-kuf-beit
, the final letters of the names.
The letter hei from Avraham preceded the Jews in the form of a Cloud of Glory. Thus, "be'otot lebeit avotam" — "the insignias of their fathers' household" — refers to the letters of the names of the patriarchs (and their merit), who always accompanied the Jewish people on their travels.
"So they encamped according to their banners and so they journeyed: every man according to his families by his father's household." (2:34)
QUESTION: What was the common to all the four banners?
Each group of three tribes had its own banner. In each group, the nasi
of the middle tribe had a name which included Hashem's name "Keil."
Yehudah's banner on the east side included Yissachar in the middle, whose nasi was Netanel. Reuven's banner was on the south side with the tribe of Shimon in the middle, whose nasi was Shlumiel. Ephraim's banner was on the west side with the tribe of Menasheh in the middle, whose nasi was Gamliel, and Dan was on the north with Pagiel, the nasi of Asher in the middle.
This indicates that Hashem rested in the midst of the Jewish community, as stated, "Their camps among which I dwell" (5:3).
In Parshat Nasso we learn about the princes' offerings for the dedication of the altar. Netanel, prince of the tribe of Issachar, brought his offering on the second day. Shelumiel, prince of Shimon, came on the fifth day. Gamliel, prince of Menasheh, was on the eighth day and Pagiel, prince of Asher, came on the eleventh day. The numbers 2, 5, 8, and 11 total 26, which is the numerical equivalent of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter holy name of Hashem.
"These are the generations of Aharon and Moshe... and these are the names of the sons of Aharon." (3:1-2)
QUESTION: The Torah only lists the four sons of Aharon; Why does the verse refer to "the generations of Aharon and Moshe?"
, Moshe tells the Jews that Hashem had been very angry with Aharon for his involvement with the golden calf and that he wanted to destroy him: "And I prayed for Aharon at that time" (9:2). Rashi explains that Hashem considered killing all four of Aharon's children. Moshe's prayers was able to save Elazar and Itamar.
Since two of Aharon's children were saved through Moshe's intervention, they are also called the children of Moshe.
"Elazar and Itamar ministered in the presence of Aharon their father." (3:4)
QUESTION: What is the Torah trying to emphasize with the words "al penei Aharon avihem" — "in the presence of Aharon their father?"
Aharon had four sons, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar. On the first day of the inauguration of Aharon and his sons as Kohanim
, Nadav and Avihu died and thus did not have a chance to minister. Aharon also had a grandson, Pinchas, described by the Torah as "Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen"
— "Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen"
The Zohar (217a) questions: Why is he referred to as the son of Elazar and the son of Aharon?
The following explanation is given: Pinchas killed Zimri for flagrantly violating a Torah law. Zimri was the head of the tribe of Shimon, and Zimri's relatives wanted to kill Pinchas, who became so frightened that his soul left him. At that time, the souls of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon's sons who died, entered into Pinchas, and he continued to live on, and as a reward for his zealousness, he was made a Kohen. Consequently, being the reincarnation of Nadav and Avihu, he is referred to as "the son of Aharon."
The incident of Pinchas and Zimri took place after the death of Aharon. Thus, while Aharon was alive, only his sons Elazar and Itamar ministered in his presence; however, after his death, his sons Nadav and Avihu also served as Kohanim in the Mishkan in the person of Pinchas.
"And Nadav and Avihu died... and they had no children." (3:4)
QUESTION: Why does it say "vayamat" — "and he died" — in the singular, instead of "vayamutu" — "and they died?"
According to the Zohar (Vayikra
86b), before a person marries he is considered a half person. After acquiring a wife, he becomes a complete entity. At the time of their death, Nadav and Avihu were both single, and therefore each was only considered one half. Thus, together they constituted one person.
"Count the sons of Levi... every male from one month of age and up." (3:15)
QUESTION: Rashi writes, "after he has gone out of the category of a non-viable birth, he is numbered to be called shomeir mishmeret hakodesh — a keeper in charge of the Sanctuary."
How can a child of thirty days old be "a keeper in charge of the Sanctuary"?
King David says: "Rechev Elokim ribotaim alfei shinan"
— "The chariot of G-d is twice 10,0000 and 2,000 angels" (Psalms 68:18). This is explained to mean that when G-d revealed Himself to the Jewish people at Sinai, He was escorted by an elaborate retinue of 22,000 angels. (Rashi)
The reason for the number 22,000 is: Hashem foresaw that all the tribes except Levi would eventually forsake the Torah and worship the golden calf. Therefore, it was only in their merit that He descended upon Sinai (See Tanchuma Tzav 12), and since they numbered 22,000, Hashem revealed Himself on Sinai to give the Torah with that number of angels.
Consequently, it is not the physical strength of the Levites that makes them fit to be the keepers of the Sanctuary, but rather the merit of the spiritual uniqueness they acquired on reaching thirty days.
"All the countings of the Levites... from one month of age and up, were twenty-two thousand." (3:39)
QUESTION: Why was the tribe of Levi the smallest?
When the Jews came to Egypt they were seventy people. In two hundred and ten years they defied the normal laws of nature and grew to over six hundred thousand, excluding women and children. Hashem performed this miracle to spite the Egyptian people, as the pasuk
states: "As much as they would afflict them, so they would increase and so they would spread out" (Shemot
In Egypt, all the tribes except for Levi served as slaves (see Shemot 5:4, Rashi). Since the exceptional increase of people was due to their enslavement, the tribe of Levi only increased in the natural way, thus totaling only twenty-two thousand.
And G-d said to Moshe: Count all the firstborn males of the Children of Israel from one month of age and up." (3:40)
QUESTION: Rashi explains that from a month old a child is removed from the category of possible non-viable births" ("safeik nefalim"). Why, in the case of the counting of the Levites from one month of age and up, does Rashi (3:15) write "after they are out of the category of non-viable births (nefalim)," without using the word "safeik" — "possible?"
The father of a firstborn must redeem the boy when he becomes thirty days old by giving a Kohen
five shekels. In the wilderness, the 22,000 Levites each redeemed one of the firstborn Israelites. Since there were 273 more Israelite firstborn than Levite people, the remaining Israelites were redeemed for five shekels each.
The redeeming of the firstborn is a money matter and there is a rule "Ein holchin bemamon achar harov" — "Monetary matters cannot be decided on the basis of majority" (Bava Kamma 27b). Whenever there is the slightest doubt, one applies the rule of "Hamotzi meichaveiro alav harai'ah" — "The one who wants to collect must bring proof." Therefore, before a parent of a firstborn can be required to redeem him with five shekels, it must be established beyond a doubt that he is not possibly a non-viable birth. Otherwise the father says to the Kohen, "Prove that my son is not of a non-viable birth."
However, the counting of the Levites was not a monetary matter, but meant to establish the number of eligible Levites to serve in the Mishkan. As soon as a Levite became thirty days old and was no longer considered a non-viable birth, he became eligible to be a member of Hashem's legion and a guardian of the Sanctuary.
Alternatively, regarding the counting of the Levites the Torah says that "Moshe counted them al pi Hashem — according to the word of G-d" (3:16). Rashi explains that since it would be immodest for him to enter the tents and count the babies, he waited at the entrance of the tent while Hashem went in. A Heavenly voice emanated from the tent telling him how many male babies were inside. Since it was Hashem who actually verified the number, there was no doubt about the viability of any of the children.
However, in regard to the counting of the first born for the purpose of redemption, there is no mention of counting "al pi Hashem" — "according to the word of G-d" — and thus it was necessary to determine the child's precise status.