Getting into Bamidbar – The Book of Numbers
1. We call the written Torah the Chumash – from the word five (chamesh).
This name is not haphazard, or because we need a pneumonic device to remember the number of books, rather it alludes to an intrinsic connection between the number and the content.
There are five steps in a complete creation. We see this by the creation of light, wherein the word ‘light’ is written five times, each referring to a different stage of the creation. (For the curious we’ll note them concisely:
1- initial theoretical conception; the big plan
2- bringing that idea into the real (physical/lower) world
3- checking how it came out. Does it work the way it was conceived
4- fixing problems, tightening the screws, separating the bad
5- giving it a handle, a name, making it user friendly
In Bamidbar/Numbers we are coming out of the intimate trial/honeymoon period of Vayikra/Leviticus, where we built a home and the Creator began to reside with His chosen people. In this fourth section, our flaws are exposed, and much of the parshas deal with the difficulties and solutions necessitated when the ideal Torah is played out by flesh and blood. This is paralled by the differences in the countings which occur at the beginning and at the close of Bamidbar. The counting of this week’s parsha places Ephraim before Menashe; this reflects the neshama’s precedence over the body, as Ephraim was more involved in learning and the spiritual than his brother. At the commencement of Bamidbar, as the Jewish people are at the end of their long journeys and once again poised to enter the promised land, they are counted again, and this time the order is reversed, indicating that the role of the physical has become more prominent, and more a focus of their Divine service as they set out to leave their desert yeshiva and settle into the Canaanite terrain. If we keep this theme in mind, we will hopefully be able to have more clarity and coherence in going through this book.
Q: Why are the tribe of Levi so much fewer in number than all the others? In fact later in history, Chronicles depicts that they have increased by far greater proportion than any other tribe (so they were fitting for fruitfulness)?
A; a number of classic answers are given. The Ramban offers two. One suggestion he makes is that in Exodus it says that ‘the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they increased’ in other words Hashem foiled their plans by causing the exact opposite to happen. The Tribe of Levi however, had a unique fate in Egypt, for they respected the priests and clergy, and since Levi were the teachers and clergy of the nation, they suffered no slavery in Egypt, and as a result, lost out on the blessing that came with it.
The Or HaChaim argues on the Ramban, bringing proofs that the numerical distinction began even before the subjugation began. The reason why they were so much fewer he claims, is that the tribe of Levi had separated from their wives. He demonstrates this with Amram, Moses’ father, who had separated from his wife, until Miriam convinced him to remarry his wife. Amram was the leader of the tribe, and more than represent them, he certainly guided them in their lives, and the whole tribe probably separated. When he gets back with her, the Torah does not even refer to him by name, rather ‘a man from Levi, took a wife..” – implying both his actions were representative of the tribe’s. His remarriage however, is written as if it were unique among the tribe, and Miriam only persuaded him as a unique event instigated by a prophecy she received of the birth of Moses who would redeem them.
Why was it, we must ask, that the tribe of Levi alone took this route of action?
The Or HaChaim answers – the rest of the Jews were slaves, having a very terrible lifestyle. We are told that they would leave their newborns in field where they lay – they were reduced to subhuman ways. The Levites, having a much more refined and fulfilling lifestyle had more appreciation for the value of life, and thus could not bring themselves to have children which were bound to be killed (if male) by the Egyptians.
Others suggest that as a way of sharing their brothers’ burdens, they voluntarily ceased from pleasures and procreation. We saw a similar conduct when Hashem told those on the ark not to have relations, since the world was being destroyed.
We hope everybody is doing great, and we hope the opening of Bamidbar blesses us all with good things.