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 Parshas Bamidbar - Vol. 3, Issue 32
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Ach es mateh Levi lo sifkod v’es rosham lo sisa b’soch B’nei Yisroel (1:49)

            This week we begin the book of Numbers, which begins with a census of the Jewish nation. Rashi explains (1:1) that the purpose of these frequent counts was to demonstrate Hashem’s love for the Jews. He counted them after they left Egypt, and again after the sin of the golden calf to know how many remained. As Hashem prepared to rest His Divine presence among them in the Mishkan, He counted them yet again. Hashem stressed to Moshe that he should not count the Levites when performing this census, but they were instead counted separately. This is difficult to understand. If the Levites were the tribe that performed the service inside of the Mishkan, they surely should have been included in this count.

Rashi explains that Hashem wanted them counted separately because He knew that everybody who was part of the general census would die in the wilderness as a result of the sin of the spies. Since the Levites had demonstrated their tremendous piety and loyalty in refusing to take part in the sin of the golden calf and in punishing the transgressors, Hashem wanted to spare them from this fate and insisted that they be counted alone. This concept is difficult to understand. Why was it necessary to count the Levites separately in order to protect them? If they didn’t take part in the sin of the spies, why would they have been punished together with the other Jews simply by virtue of the fact that they were counted together with them?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that although the Levites were righteous, there are times when, difficult as it may be to comprehend, Hashem judges not only individuals but also communities. In this case, Hashem knew that there would be a judgment against the entire nation for the sin of the spies. The decree would mandate that anybody who was part of the community, as defined by the recently-conducted census, be punished together with them. The only way for the Levites to be saved was for them to be counted alone, which would spare them from the decree by defining them as an independent entity.

Rav Chaim adds that fortunately, this attribute of Hashem’s justice works for the good as well. When a person is part of a larger community of righteous individuals, he is able to benefit from their cumulative merits. This may protect him even if his own personal merits are insufficient.

The value of being part of a larger group is illustrated by the following humorous, if fictional, story. A proctor was administering a final exam for a large college class. After giving due warnings, the proctor announced that time had expired and all exam booklets must be brought forward, yet one student continued frantically writing.

When he brought his booklet forward a few minutes later, the proctor refused to accept it. The student bellowed, “Do you have any idea who I am,” implying that he came from a prominent family and deserved leniency. The proctor answered, “I don’t know, and I don’t care. You broke the rules, and now you’ve failed this course.” The clever student, secure in his anonymity, smugly opened the stack of exam books to the middle, stuck his book in, and quickly walked out the door.

Rav Chaim led the flight of the Mir yeshiva across Europe and Asia during the Holocaust. True to his teachings, he stressed to the students the importance of sticking together during this horrible period of Divine judgment. Amazingly, in spite of the tremendous national suffering which struck the Jewish nation during that period, the Mir yeshiva and its entire student body escaped completely intact and unscathed.

Although the census of each of the tribes may seem like historical trivia with no application to our daily lives, Rav Chaim teaches us that this isn’t the case. The lesson is that if we affiliate ourselves with a righteous community, becoming part of our synagogue and volunteering to help with communal organizations, we will benefit from their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy health, happiness, and good blessings.


V’ha’chonim alav mateh Yissochor v’nasi liv’nei Yissochor Nesanel ben Tzuar … matzeh Zevulun v’nasi liv’nei Zevulun Eliav ben Cheilon … U’mateh Gad (2:5-7, 14)

            There was once a complicated Din Torah in Vilna which required arbitration. The two sides requested that the Vilna Gaon preside over the Beis Din that would rule on the dispute, but to their surprise, he refused. When they pressed him for an explanation, he explained that one of the individuals chosen to sit as a judge on the Beis Din was a businessman who wasn’t sufficiently learned to be involved in the resolution of the case. The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 3:4) forbids a judge from sitting on a Beis Din together with somebody who is unfit for the position, such as one who isn’t a Torah scholar. In fact, the Sm”a comments that the rulings of laymen are generally the opposite of those of Torah scholars!

            The Vilna Gaon continued by offering a beautiful hint to this law. In listing the formations of the Jewish encampments in the wilderness, the Torah lists 4 groups of 3 tribes, each of which encamped in a different direction around the central Mishkan. In each list of 3 tribes, the verse which mentions the third tribe always begins with the letter “vav,” which serves to connect that tribe to the preceding tribes.

However, there is one exception. The tribe of Zevulun, which represented the businessmen and merchants, is the third tribe listed in the encampment of Yehuda in the east, yet it doesn’t begin with a connecting letter “vav.” The Gaon explained that this is because the second tribe in the list is that of Yissochar, which consisted of Torah scholars. The Torah intentionally omitted the connecting “vav” to hint to the aforementioned law. When it comes to clarifying and ruling on Torah laws, there may be no connection between the competent Torah scholars and the insufficiently-learned businessmen!


Vayamas Nadav v’Avihu lifnei Hashem b’hakrivam aish zarah lifnei Hashem b’midbar Sinai u’banim lo hayu lahem vay’cha’hein Elazar v’Isomor al p’nei Aharon avihem (3:4)

            A Rav in Europe once passed away. Because his son was too young to fill his position, the leaders of the community hired another Rav to take his place. Several years later, the son matured and reached a level at which he was capable of serving in his father’s stead. The new Rav expressed resistance and argued that although a Rav’s son is legally entitled to inherit his father’s position and fill the role if he is fitting, in this case the son had been too young at the time and therefore lost his right of succession.

            The dispute was brought for resolution to Rav Meir Shapiro. He cited the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:26), which explains that the Torah emphasizes the fact that Nadav and Avihu died without any children to teach that if they had indeed had offspring, their children would have precedence in taking their places. It was only because they died without children that the verse concludes that Elozar and Isomor were therefore eligible to serve in their father Aharon’s stead.

Rav Shapiro noted that this Medrash is difficult to understand. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that Nadav and Avihu were under the age of 20 when they died. Even if they had left descendants, those children would clearly be under the age of Bar Mitzvah at the time of their deaths, which would invalidate them from inheriting the position. How could the Medrash infer that had Nadav and Avihu left behind progeny, they would have preceded their uncles in filling a position for which they were ineligible?

Rav Shapiro concluded that we may deduce from here that even in a case when the inheritors are too young at the time of death to fill the role which is rightfully theirs, they never relinquish their claims to the position, which they are entitled to fill upon their maturity. As a result, Rav Shapiro ruled that the son of the first Rav should now inherit his father’s mantle!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     Rashi writes (1:1) that after Hashem came to rest His Presence among the Jews, He counted them once again to make his love for them known. If the Mishkan was erected and Hashem began to dwell there on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, why did He wait an entire month until Rosh Chodesh Iyar to count them? (Sifsei Chochomim, Tzeidah L’Derech, Oznayim L’Torah, Ayeles HaShachar)

2)     The Torah records that the population of each tribe was a multiple of 100, with the exception of Gad, whose population was a multiple of 50 (1:25). Was it really possible that every tribe had such a precisely even number of Jews, or did the Torah round the census to the nearest 50 or 100? (Meshech Chochma 3:16, Derech Sicha, Shiras Dovid, Shaarei Aharon)

3)     Rashi explains (3:1) that the Torah refers to the sons of Aharon as Moshe’s progeny because whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. As Moshe taught the entire Torah to every Jew, in what way are Aharon’s children considered his offspring more than the rest of the Jewish people? (Kli Yakar, Mishmeres Ariel)

4)     The Torah introduces the concept of replacing the first-born with the Levites by stating (3:13) that all first-born Jews became sanctified to Hashem on the day that He killed the first-born Egyptians, and concluding “li yih’yu” – “they shall be Mine.” Since they were being replaced by the Levites, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to say “they were Mine,” and in what way will they be sanctified to Hashem in the future? (Taima D’Kra)

5)     The Rema rules (Yoreh Deah 305:10) that the mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen – redemption of the first-born male son – must be performed by the father and cannot be done through an agent. How can this be reconciled with the explicit verses in the Torah (3:47-51) which relate that the redemption of the first-born in the desert was done by giving money to Moshe, who then gave it to the Kohanim as their agent? (Malbim; Biur HaGra, Hagahos Rav Akiva Eiger, and Pis’chei Teshuva on Yoreh Deah 305:10; Shu”t Chasam Sofer 257 and 293-4; Shiras Dovid)

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