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May 15, 1999 29 Iyar 5759
Day 44 of the Omer
Rosh Hodesh Sivan will be observed on Sunday, May 16.

Pop Quiz: From what age were the Levites counted in their census?

by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

The perashah that is always read before the holiday of Shabuot is Bemidbar, this week's reading. The word Midbar means wilderness, and indeed the Midrash points out clearly that the Torah was given only in a wilderness, not in an inhabited area.

The Rabbis tell us that a wilderness symbolizes simplicity - the sand, the sky and nothing else. So too the Torah can only be accepted with an attitude of simplicity. This does not only mean without being encumbered by materialism. It also means a simple faith and simple outlook on life.

We have to believe that we are Jews only because of the Torah, and everything in the world revolves around the Torah. We also have to realize that if we want, we can create a life that is compatible with the Torah, no matter what the society or environment says. Simple faith is not usually simple to achieve. But the wilderness should remind us that certain things are integral for the acceptance of the Torah. Simplicity in all its forms will help us in receiving the Torah and living a life of Torah. Tizku Leshanim Rabot.

by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"They were registered by ancestry according to their paternal families" (Bemidbar 1:18)

The fourth book of the Torah begins with a counting of the Israelites. That is why Bemidbar is called by some as "Numbers." We find repeated references to the 'tsaba', the army. The nation's able-bodied men are called the Army of Hashem. Rashi explains that they actually had to bring proof of their ancestry. Why was it necessary to investigate the pedigree of the men who were eligible for military service? Rabbi Hirsch explains that while prime qualifications for members of the armies of other nations are bravery, courage and physical strength, a Jewish army has an entirely different set of standards: pedigreed family purity. The reason for this is because lineage is an assurance that the soldiers will possess the qualities of mercy and kindness inherited from their ancestors. These qualities are essential in a time of war to avoid needless shedding of innocent blood through massacres and brutalities.

Rabbi Hirsch also says that the Army of Hashem is not exclusively for military service. What it means is that every man who is able is duty bound to step out of his simple, private life into the public service of the community whenever it is demanded of him. Why is it described as an army? Because in the army, every man is assigned a post and every soldier knows he must not abandon his position. Similarly, in the service of Hashem, every Jew has a job to sanctify Hashem's name in this world. Hashem, in His direct involvement in our lives, has placed us all in different positions. Many of us are in the workplace; many are teachers, students, housewives and Rabbis. Hashem has placed us all; there is no position in life in which a Jew doesn't have the opportunity to give honor to Hashem's name. We are all good at what we do. Don't leave your post; sanctify Hashem's name. Shabbat Shalom.


"Take a census of the entire Israelite community" (Bemidbar 1:2)

It appears remarkable that this new census yielded the identical total as the previous one, taken some six months earlier. What is even more notable is that the tribe of Levi, which was previously counted, is not included in the present census, since they were now counted separately. Apparently, during this six-month period, there were added to the ranks of Jewish males between the ages of twenty and sixty, a number equivalent to the tribe of Levi. When the tribe of Levi was chosen to devote their lives entirely to the service of Hashem, they no longer could be included in the ranks of those who were eligible for service in the "Jewish army."

One may presume that due to this exclusion, the number of members in the Jewish army would decrease, since a complete tribe was removed from its ranks. Therefore, at Hashem's command, a new census was organized to clearly indicate that the number of soldiers was intact. This is similar to Hashem's compassion throughout our tumultuous history; that despite the scarcity of those who devote their entire life to Torah study and Hashem's service, there is no lack, since Hashem always compensates.
(Peninim on the Torah)


"A man of every tribe, each the head of his father's household he shall be" (Bemidbar 1:4)

The word "hu - he shall be," seems extra.

Several Hassidic Rebbes were once sitting together around a table. Each one of them conveyed 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."

His message to his colleagues 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 own family - not simply because of his parents, but because "hu - he shall be" on his own merit. (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Pop quiz: From 30 days old.

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