Please forgive the crude formatting that follows. I'm off my regular computer, typing on a broken-keyboard laptop, running Ubuntu which doesn't as yet have decent rich-text blog posting software installed (recommendations?). So I'm sending this from gmail instead!
Welcome to a brand new Sefer of the Chumash!
This parsha and sefer are called Bamidbar – that means "in the desert" or "in the wilderness."
We were in the midbar for a long time: forty years. We'll learn why in two weeks, in parshas Shelach!
Vayikra, which we just finished, has another name – Toras Kohanim; Torah for the Kohanim.
Bamidbar also has a different name: Chumash HaPekudim; the Chumash for counting.
In English, it's called the Book of Numbers. Let's find out why!
A few months ago in the parsha, Hashem counted bnei Yisrael. Now, He is counting them again!
What kinds of things do you count? When do you count them? Maybe you might count because you want to have a lot of something – like fresh garden strawberries or a collection of toys.
Sometimes, you count something for a sad reason. Imagine you had a whole bag of fancy marbles – shiny and glittery and colourful – and they all spilled! You'd round them up, of course, and then probably count to make sure they were all there. You would be sad if you noticed some missing – maybe they're under the furniture, but maybe they're just GONE.
In this week's parsha, Hashem counts bnei Yisrael because many of them are GONE.
Many of bnei Yisrael were lost after the egel hazahav. This was very sad.
But Hashem is also showing us something important here: Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people keep on going!
Do you remember what the Shevatim are?
The parsha lists the names of the shevatim (Do you know the names? Can you sing them?).
These were families, born from the sons of Yaakov, Yosef's brothers, Avraham's great-grandsons.
Those sons died, but the shevatim had all grown into great big families with new leaders.
The parsha lists the names of their leaders because tzaddikim keep Hashem's message alive: they are why Am Yisrael keeps right on going!
Some of the shevatim had MANY more people than others!
Shevet Yehudah, the biggest, had 74,600 adult men. Shevet Menasheh only had 32,200 adult men.
Did you know? Dan only had one son, but in this parsha, his shevet has grown HUGE – 62,700 men. Binyamin, who had ten sons, was now one of the smallest shevatim: 35,400 men.
If you start with two rabbits, they have babies and in a few years, you have thousands of rabbits.
The more rabbits you start with, the more babies you get – lots and lots of rabbits! That's nature.
Bnei Yisrael are NOT like rabbits. Only Hashem, not nature, decides which shevatim will grow.
Only Hashem knows who truly deserves to succeed.
Now that they'd been counted, bnei Yisrael learned that it isn't enough to have many soldiers – everybody must know his place. Hashem organized all the shevatim with Mishkan in the very middle.
But one shevet still hasn't been counted: Shevet Levi.
Hashem told Moshe to count them personally, but Moshe didn't want to go into private tents.
Some people say they made a deal: Moshe stood outside and a voice called out how many people lived in each tent. That way, everybody's private life could stay private! There were 22,000 levi'im.
We still know who their descendents are today – the Kohanim and Levi'im in our shul!
Now that Levi was counted, it was time for a gigantic swap!
There were almost as many kohanim as there were firstborn men in bnei Yisrael.
Because firstborn men had done the cheit ha'egel, Hashem didn't want them serving in the Mishkan.
So Hashem told Moshe the firstborn men should each pay 5 shekels to "trade" with a Levi.
We still do this today with a firstborn son: we "redeem" him at a Pidyon HaBen when he's 30 days old
This week's parsha ends with an interesting problem:
When the Mishkan travelled, one group of Levi'im, bnei Kehas, were supposed to carry the menorah, aron, and other important keilim. But only the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, were allowed to touch those things. Anyone else who touched them would die! So how could bnei Kehas carry them without dying? Luckily, Hashem told Moshe the answer. The Kohanim would go in first and wrap up the keilim very well. THEN, once they were covered, bnei Kehas could come in and take them away!
Bnei Yisrael travelled many times. We'll learn more about that as we read Sefer Bamidbar!