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   by Jacob Solomon

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Section A

The diagrams below summarizes the form in which the Israelites camped on their travels in the wilderness

Label Items A to J inclusive

Section B

1. Moses' command to take a census of the Israelites is phrased 'se-u et rosh' (1:2) - literally to 'lift up the heads'. Why is this specific expression used, according to the Ramban?

2. Why, according to (a) Rashi and (b) Ibn Ezra, were the Levites counted separately from the Israelites?

3. Why, according to the Ramban, did the honor of becoming the leading tribe of the southern part of the camp fall on Reuben (2:10)?

4. What, according to (a) Rashi (b) the Kli Yakar is the justification for Nadav and Avihu being reckoned as the children of Moses as well as of Aaron? (3:1-2)

5. What, according to Rashi, is the significance of the five shekels as the sum for redeeming a firstborn child? (4:47)

6. From where does the Talmud (Avot 5:25) learn that a man does not reach his full strength until the age of 30?


Section A

A - Holy of Holies Sanctuary of the Tabernacle

B - The Tabernacle

C - Courtyard of the Tabernacle

D - (Area where) Moses, Aaron, and their families (camped)

E - Gershon

F - 151,450 - (total headcount of those in theTribes camping in the southern area)

G - Flag of Judah - 74,600

H - Menasseh - 32,000 (smallest male headcount of the Tribes)

I - South

J - Total Headcount of Israelites (excluding Levites) of males eligible for military service - 603,550.

Section B

1. According to the Ramban, the word 'se-u et rosh' does, indeed, follow its literal meaning - to raise the heads, as well as to count. Like in the story of Pharoah's baker's and butler's dreams, this expression can mean that the 'people would be uplifted to an exalted level' (c.f. Gen. 40:13), or 'their heads would be "lifted" - removed - from them' (c.f. Gen. 40:19). Thus the use of that term hints to the people that if they would be worthy, they would be uplifted, but if not, they could suffer greatly.

2. According to Rashi, the Levites were counted separately from the Israelites as an act of distinguishing them in being entrusted to perform the Holy Service in the Tabernacle - following their loyalty to G-d in not participating in the Golden Calf. Rashi brings a second explanation on the same theme - for that faith shown, G-d wanted to exclude the Levites from the future fate of the Israelites who would die in the wilderness. Ibn Ezra gives a simpler reasoning. They were excluded from the general census, as they were to serve at the Tabernacle and not in the army, as other tribes.

3. According to the Ramban, the honor of becoming the leading tribe of the southern part of the camp was Reuben's, because Reuben himself sincerely repented for having slighted his father Jacob's marital arrangements (see Gen. 35:22 and Rashi ad loc).

4. According to Rashi, Moses taught Aaron's sons, and in so doing, became their spiritual father - in contrast to Aaron, who was their physical father. The Kli Yakar justifies Moses' being reckoned as Nadav and Avihu's father because he saved the lives of at least part of their family. Following the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d wished to destroy the entire family, but Moses' prayers managed to save part of the family.

5. The five shekels, according to Rashi, is equivalent to the 'twenty pieces of silver' for which Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:28) - this amount symbolizing the continued atonement for that negative act.

6. The Talmud learns that a person reaches his full strength at the age of thirty as that was the minimum age for which the Levites were allowed to participate in the very heavy work of dismantling and transporting the Tabernacle (4:3)


The Parasha details the second time that Moses counted the Israelites. The first occasion was several months previously - when he counted them after the Chet Ha-Egel, though the silver half shekels, which were subsequently processed for structures in the Mishkan. Why was it necessary to count the Israelites a second time at all? There had not been a disaster that reduced the number of people since the first headcount. Also, why was the second census carried out in a different way? The first time the Israelites were counted as one large unit. This time, they were counted by name, according to tribe.

For a suggested approach, see my 5761 item for Parashat Bamidbar on the Shema Yisrael website.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara


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