Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parshat BaMidbar

Parshat Bamidbar
Numbers 1:1 - 4:20

On the first day of the thirteenth month following the Exodus from Egypt, God commands Moses to take a census of all the Israelite males over 20 years of age who are able to bear arms. Moses and Aaron and the heads of each tribe record the census. The total counted is 603,550.

The Levites, however, are counted in a separate census, since they are not to bear arms. Moses assigns to them specific duties for the care of the Tabernacle. They are to camp around the Tabernacle to guard it. The rest of the Israelites are told to camp in four groups of three tribes under their ancestral banners around the Tabernacle.

Originally, firstborn Israelites were consecrated to God, since they escape the plague of the death of all firstborn in Egypt. Now, God tells Moses to appoint the Levites as priests in place of the firstborn. Twenty-two thousand male Levites over one month old are counted by Moses and Aaron. They are assigned to help Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar with the work of the Tabernacle.

Moses also counts all the firstborn males over one month old among the rest of the Israelite population - a total of 22,273. A redemption price of five shekels per head is collected and paid to Aaron and his sons for the 273 firstborn Israelites in excess of the male Levites.

A separate census is taken of the Kohathite clan of the Levites which is given the task of carrying the sacred objects and their furnishings on the journeys of the people. The Kohathites are cautioned not to touch any of the sacred objects or furnishings of the Tabernacle. Aaron and his sons are charged with the job of covering and inserting poles into all the objects in the Tabernacle in preparation for the Kohathite porterage.

Finally, Eleazar, the son of Aaron, is made responsible for the Tabernacle and all its furnishings.

Synopsis courtesy of Teaching Torah, by Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden

For your Shabbat table:
  • This portion is the first in the book of Numbers (Hebrew: Bamidbar) - one of the reasons it is called "numbers," is because it starts off with the counting of all of the Israelites - a census. Why might it have been important to take count of everyone, especially those males over the age of 20 who are able to fight?
  • What makes you special as an individual? What special qualities do you add to your family?
  • While this portion counts individuals, it also talks of larger groups of people - the families and clans within the Israelites. Even today our last names can give us information about our background - while some names have biblical tribal connections - Cohen, Kahn, Katz are often associated with Kohanim and Levy, Levine, and Leventhal are often Levites - others tell us of more recent connections in history, like where are families came from (city or place names) or the jobs they used to do. What do you know of your family history? Where do your names - first and last - come from?

And now... time for your favorite Torah cartoon, from

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