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The opening chapters of Sefer Bamidbar give the details of:
Take a census of the Israelites… include every military-eligible male from age twenty and up (1:2-3).
On occasion, the Sforno examines a theme in kabalistic dimensions. His presentation of the census and the marching procedures is one of them.
In his introduction to Sefer Bamidbar, the Sforno explains that the census and the designation of flag-marked positions for each tribe in the camp were G-d's acts of kindness to the Israelites. For G-d's directions to Moses placed the Israelites in a physical position that was in harmony with the merkava (Divine chariot), experienced as a vision by the neviim (prophets). That would enable them to enter the Promised Land peacefully, as the nations would leave on their own accord (Sforno to 1:2).
Indeed, it may be suggested that the emphasis on the military eligibility of all males over twenty would achieve two things. Firstly, there would be a sense of order and decorum in a community that were slaves until very recently. Secondly, its disciplined formation viewed from afar or by hearsay would persuade the seven Canaanite nations to take themselves elsewhere.
Sefer Bamidbar proceeds to detail the ways that the Israelites did cooperate, so that they would be worthy of entering the Land without going into battle. They initiated and gave duties to the tribe of Levi, they separated those who were tameh (ritually unclean) from the camp, they established procedures for dealing with suspected spiritually-incompatible adultery and sanctifying individuals as nezirim (Nazerites), and they connected the Israelites to G-d through birkat kohanim (the Priestly blessing). They also dedicated the altar, observed Pesach according to its detailed laws, and showed willingness to follow G-d in the wilderness.
However, the alignment of this high level of kedusha with spiritual forces in the Creation was to rupture beyond immediate repair with the episode of the Spies.
In this way, the Sforno demonstrates a fundamental connection between seemingly unrelated elements in Sefer Bamidbar.
Extending this principle, all physical items of kedusha have that status because of their alignment with the higher spiritual forces in the Creation. A Sefer Torah achieves that level when the final letter is inscribed and the text is complete, thereby converting folios of Torah-inscribed parchment into a new entity of much higher kedusha. A beth haknesseth raises mere space to being a confined area spiritually designated for the purpose of tefilla and limud Torah.
Indeed, the Halacha defines the practices and behaviors that are compatible with the forces that these elements connect with. They include not using a beth haknesseth as a short cut, and standing when the Sefer Torah is carried and when the aron hakodesh is open.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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