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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Bamidbar

Count the heads of the whole of the congregation of Bnei Yisrael. (1:2)

When it was necessary to conduct a census, the vehicle of counting was the contribution of a half – shekel coin to be used for the construction and maintenance of the Mishkan. The people elevated their status by contributing to charity. Hence, we understand the word "seu", "raise up/elevate the heads". The counting also served as a means to elevate the people. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, supplements this idea with a profound thought. By using a contribution as the symbol of counting, the Torah is telling them that a Jew is ‘counted’ as belonging to the congregation of Klal Yisrael only when he contributes something. Regardless of whether he makes a material or spiritual donation, he must give of himself. That is how he expresses his desire to be counted.

Horav Hirsch focuses on the significance of the individual as a member of Klal Yisrael. At the end of the previous Sefer, chumash Vayikra, the Torah addresses the concept of Nidrei Hekdesh: One who feels the need to express his personal relationship to the Sanctuary vows to undertake a symbolic consecration of his own person. Alternatively, he consecrates a portion of his possessions to benefit the Mishkan. Sefer Bamidbar follows closely with the census, in which each individual is counted as an important member of the congregation, upon whose conscious devotion and faithfulness to duty rests the national mission of our people.

As Sefer Vayikra ends with the laws of Maaser behemah, the animal tithe, in which each animal passed beneath the shepherds’ crook to be counted individually, similarly, each Jew is counted as an individual. Although every tenth sheep is Maaser, consecrated, when it comes to the Jewish census, every Jew is holy. Every Jew has his mission, both personal and collective. He must rise to the occasion and be counted, as he is elevated through his contribution to the Klal.

Their count, for the tribe of Menashe; thirty two thousand, two hundred. (1:35)

The count for shevet Menashe was about thirty-two thousand men. There is no doubt that every census was determined by Hashem. Consequently, there must have been a reason that the number thirty-two played such a prominent role in Menashes’ census. Horav Chaim Pardes, Shlita, expounds on the significance of the number thirty-two through the perspective of Chazal. The Talmud Yevamos 62b states that Rabbi Akiva’s twenty four thousand students died during the period between Pesach and Shavuous because they were not accustomed to showing proper kavod, honor/esteem, one for another. The Maharal M’Prague makes a profound statement in regard to the time frame of their death. On the thirty-third day of the Omar, Lag B’omar, the Heavenly decree that they should die ceased. What is the implication of this brief cessation in their tragic demise? He explains that they died because of laxity in observing proper kavod, which in the Hebrew language,sucf, is the gimatriya, numerical equivalent of thirty-two. Hence, they perished during a thirty-two day period! The Talmud states that they died during the entire period between Pesach and Shavous. However, the decree ended on the thirty second day of the period. After that no one else became ill; only those who were already ill died after the thirty second day.

To explain this idea further, Horav Pardes cites Maharal in his commentary on Meseches Avos 4:1, where the Mishnah says: "Who is honorable? – He who honors his fellow man." Maharal explains that just because others give honor to an individual, it does not necessarily make him honorable. Plaudits given by others do not imbue one with honor. These are only superficial expressions, which do not become ingrained in the person. It does not change the person in any way. It does not create an honorable person from one who previously was not a man of distinction. On the other hand, when one demonstrates whom he considers honorable, when one gives honor to others, he takes an active role. In other words when one dispenses kavod he shows that he is a mechubad, honorable person.

One who receives kavod is dependent on others. He does not himself necessarily possess kavod. Hashem is referred to as Melech Hakavod, the King of Honor. Hashem reveres those that fear Him. Since He is cholek kavod, dispenses kavod, He is a mechubad. The same idea can be noted further in Mishnah 7 where the Tanna says, "Whoever honors the Torah will himself be honored by people." Maharal explains that Torah is kavod, it is the essense of honor and reverence. One who connects with Torah by honoring it, studying it, and observing its commandments, will receive the reciprocal reward that his entire person will be honored by those around him. Interestingly, one is not deemed honorable simply by studying or observing Torah. Only by honoring Torah, does one become honorable.

What is inferred from Chazal, as seen through the interpretation of Maharal, is that one who attaches himself to honor, who sees to it that others receive the respect they deserve, will himself be honored. One who represents the opposite of kavod, who profanes kavod haTorah, denigrates the honor due the Torah and its disseminators, is not and will not be honorable. Kavod is determined by one’s attachment to Torah via the honor he accords to it. Consequently, one who does not exhibit the proper kavod haTorah is himself no longer an honorable person. Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim, students, died during a period of thirty two days equivalent to the Hebrew word kavod, for they did not reflect the proper kavod one accords a Torah scholar. Not giving kavod is tantamount to denigrating a talmid chacham. This sin, in accordance to their lofty level of spiritual devotion was considered grave enough to warrant such severe punishment.

The unique census of the members of Menashe's tribe, Horav Pardes suggests, may be attributed to Menashe’s nature. Menashe was the bechor, the elder of Yosefs’ two sons. He was Yosefs’ honor, hope and source of confidence in the dark Galus of Egypt. He represented Yosef's kavod in Egypt. The number of men in his tribe reflected this unique status.

Applying the initial idea that Menashe symbolized kavod, we suggest another reason for his tribes’ number. Menashe, although being the elder brother, deferred to Efraim out of respect for his scholarly status. Rather than become upset when his grandfather, Yaakov, gave precedence to Efraim, his younger brother, he wholeheartedly accepted the "demotion" and gave kavod to Efraim. His ability to give kavod where it was due is recognized by the unique census of his tribe.

These are the offspring of Moshe and Aharon…These are the names of the sons of Aharon…(3:1,2)

The Torah is about to enumerate Moshe and Aharons’ offspring. The pasuk, however, mentions only the sons of Aharon. In the Talmud Sanhedrin 96, Chazal infer that one who teaches Torah to someone else’s children is regarded as if he has begotten them. Moshe was their rebbe; he taught them the Torah, which would sustain them. He was like their father. This idea applies to anyone who imparts his Torah knowledge to others. Our influence is far-reaching; our ability to inspire is unlimited. Moshe was mentor and spiritual father to Aharon’s sons.

What about the rest of Klal Yisrael? Moshe was also their rebbe? Why are Aharon’s sons singled out from the rest of Klal Yisrael? The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says that as a result of Aharon's participation in the sin of the golden calf, his sons should have died. Moshe, however, saved them through his supplication to Hashem. He, therefore, was regarded as their father.

Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, interprets Chazal's words in a different manner. Moshe did not merit seeing his sons follow in his footsteps. Torah is not a possession that can be bequeathed or inherited. One earns the kesser Torah, crown of distinction, for Torah scholarship through his own amelus, diligence and perserverance in Torah study. Aharon did enjoy incredible nachas from his sons' Torah achievement as a result of Moshe’s teaching them Torah. This is the Torah’s intention in mentioning Moshe as surrogate father to Aharon’s sons. Aharon’s nachas, his merit to see banim talmidei chachamim, was because of Moshe.

Horav Yitzchok Hutner, zl, contends that only a rebbe muvhak, one who taught most of an individual’s Torah to him, is considered as if he had begotten him. Horav Shmuel Truvitz, Shlita, comments that while all of Klal Yisrael certainly learned Torah from Moshe, Aharon’s sons had exceptional opportunity to hear Moshe repeat the lesson three times. This gave them prominence over Klal Yisrael. We suggest that since Moshe was their uncle, there was an exceptional affiliation between Aharon’s sons and Moshe. A student must feel this closeness in order to sustain an enduring bond in the Rebbe – talmid relationship. One does not necessarily have to be related to his rebbe, but the love and affection that is, and should be, prevalent among family should be inherent in a teacher – student relationship. A student learns when he feels that there is love and caring for him.

After all is said and done, we maintain that the rebbe has a parental obligation towards his student. He must concern himself about the student’s scholastic, moral and spiritual achievement. Torah is life – the rebbe that teaches Torah provides the student with tools for living. Is it any wonder that one who teaches Torah is regarded as if he had begotten the student? If we agree with the above, it would serve us well to hold in greater esteem those who play such a critical role in our children’s lives.

The families of Bnei Kehas would encamp on the side of the Mishkan, to the south. (3:29)

Rashi notes that shevet Reuven camped nearby. This close proximity between Shevet Reuven and shevet Kehas is what caused Dasan and Aviram of the tribe of Reuven to be "pulled" along, to be influenced by Korach. His vilification of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohen gave him the distinction of being the first one to rebel against Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership. Dasan and Aviram stood at the forefront of Korach’s ill-fated group of followers. They were "nimshach", pulled along, by Korach because they were near him. Rashi’s use of the word "nimshichu", they were pulled, as opposed to any other phrase denoting their being influenced by and following Korach tells us something. He could have said, "they agreed", "they followed"; what is the significance of being "pulled along"?

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, infers a profound lesson from here. To be pulled along is to follow slowly, one step at a time, at times without thought or malice, just simply being attracted to follow the one who is pulling. This teaches us that one can be influenced unwittingly. He is privy to an occurrence, or is in the proximity of someone or something that leaves an impression on him – without realizing it. Over time, this impression impacts him so that his entire perspective changes.

The Navi tell us that, in his later years, Shlomo Hamelech’s wives catalyzed a change within him to the point that he turned to idol worship. Chazal explain that Shlomo definitely did not worship idols, but when he married Pharaoh’s daughter he did not protest the various musical instruments that she brought with her which were used for idol worship. This is enigmatic. Did he worship idols or not? If he did not worship idols, why does the Navi ascribe this terrible sin to him? Horav Yaakov Moshe Lesin, Zl, explains that the actual distance one is from sin is determined by the degree one is removed from sin. One’s ability to tolerate any form of evil brings him closer to that evil. There are those for whom the mere thought of involvement in a sin would be devastating. There are others who are not so far – they will merely laugh it off – but will not be revolted by the sin.

The manner in which one reacts to another who sins is also a determining factor in his own reservations to evil. The story is told that Rav Chaim Brisker, zl, was once walking with his father, the Bais Halevi, zl, on Shabbos, when they saw a Jew who was desecrating Shabbos. Rav Chaim was shocked, while the Bais Halevi fainted! Rav Chaim said afterwards, "Look at the difference between my father’s degree of "richuk min ha’cheit", distancing himself from sin, and mine. I saw chillul Shabbos and was terribly upset. My father was so distraught that he fainted. He could not handle observing the sin of chillul Shabbos."

This is what Chazal mean in regard to Shlomo Hamelech. True, he did not sin, but he came closer to evil when he tolerated its presence in his home. Shlomo Ha’melech was no longer the same. He theoretically, according to his spiritual level, acquiesced to idol worship. Bnei Reuven, because of their proximity to Korach, were "pulled" closer to sin and rebellion. Everytime one sees an aveirah, sin, being flagrantly committed, he becomes closer to that sin. His distance from evil becomes that much shorter.


1) When did the census referred to in the beginning of this parsha take place?
2) Why was shevet Levi not counted together with the other tribes?
3) Who was the nasi of the family of Merari?
4) Who was the nasi of the family of Gershon?
5) A) Who was personally appointed to carry the oil and incense?
B) Were they not extremely heavy?


1) Rosh Chodesh Iyar
2) Rashi cites two reasons: 1) Shevet Levi is Ligyono Shel Melech, Hashem’s private legion. They are counted separately out of respect for their status. 2) Hashem knew that all those who were counted would be destined to die in the desert because of their part in the sin of the Meraglim, spies. He therefore, did not have them counted together with the others.
3) Tzuriel ben Avichayil
4) Isamar ben Aharon
5) A) Elazar ben Aharon hakohen.
B) Rashi says he was blessed with extra- ordinary strength. Ramban says that he did not actually carry them; he was only charged with being personally responsible for them.


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