It's Not What, But Why - Part I
Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers) begins with a detailed census of the Bnai Yisroel
(Sons of Israel) during their second year in the desert.
Nisan (April) 15, 2448 - Exodus.
Sivan (May) 6, 2448 (7 weeks later) - Jews received the Torah.
Tamuz (July) 17, 2448 (40 days later) - Golden Calf.
Tishrei (September) 10, 2449 (80 days later) - Second set of Luchos
Tishrei 11, 2449 (the next day) - Construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)
Rosh Chodesh (1st day of the month) Nissan 2449 (6 months later) - Mishkan
fully assembled and dedicated.
Rosh Chodesh Iyar (1 month later) - Sefer Bamidbar begins with the
Rashi explains that the census was an expression of Hashem's (G-d's) love
for His children. The Ramban elaborates on Rashi and explains that the
census indicated that each Jew was significant to G-d. Furthermore, it
revealed the miraculous growth of the nation. Despite 210 years of
enslavement and persecution, the family of 70 had grown to a nation of
almost 3 million. A fact that would otherwise have been taken for granted
or ignored was now thrust into the focus of the nation's consciousness.
The exile and persecution not withstanding, G-d had fulfilled His promise
to the Avos (Patriarchs) and Imahos (Matriarchs) and had watched over the
development of their children. The census revealed the miracle and the
miracle revealed G-d's love.
The Ramban's comment deserves a second look. It suggests that the detailed
nature of the census revealed G-d's love for the Jewish people more than
if the Torah had stated the bottom line of 603,550 men between 20 and 60
years of age plus the 22,000 Leviyim over the age of 30 days. In fact, the
detailed nature of the census is more detailed than most realize.
Starting with the tribe of Reuven (1:20) and concluding with the tribe of
Naftoli (1:42) Moshe counted every male between the ages of twenty and
sixty. For each tribe, there is a sub-total and at the end, (1:46) the
Torah stated the sum total of 603,550 specifying that the total did not
include the tribe of Layvie. But that's not all…
Starting with the second chapter, (2:1) the Torah detailed the placement
of the tribes in the organization of the desert camp. However, in addition
to stating the tribal positions and groupings, the Torah repeats the sub-
totals for each of the tribes and at the end (2:32) repeats the sum total
of 603,550 again specifying that the total did not include the tribe of
Layvie. But that's not all…
Starting with the third chapter, (3:1) Hashem commanded the counting of
the tribe of Layvie, first Moshe and then Aharon and his sons. Then, the
Torah again recorded the deaths of Nadav and Avihu (eldest sons of Aharon)
declaring Elazar and Isamar as Aharon's surviving sons. The Torah then
pauses in the census taking of the tribe of Layvie to appoint Layvie as
administrators of the Mishkan under the direction of Aharon and his sons.
Returning to the census of Layvie each of the three Levite families,
Gershon, Kehas, and Merari are counted. In each instance, the family is
counted and totaled, their placement within the camp organization noted,
and the family's specific assignment regarding the Mishkan stated. The
Torah then states (3:39) the sum total of the Leviyim was 22,000. But
that's not all…
Following the census of Layvie, Hashem commanded the counting of all first-
born males over the age of 30 days who would have administered the
workings of the Mishkan if not for the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe did
so and the total of first-born in the entire nation was 22,273 (3:43). The
22,000 Leviyim were officially exchanged for the 22,273 first-born. The
extra 273 first-born were required to undergo a "pidyon - redemption" with
Aharon whereby their otherwise sanctified designation (if not for the
Golden Calf) was removed and transferred to the tribe of Layvie. But
that's not all…
Concluding Parshas Bamidbar and extending into next week's Parshas Noso,
the Torah addressed each of the three families of Layvie, repeating in
each instance that their census was from 30 days to 50 years old and
elaborating on the exact service each family was to perform in
the "moving" of the Mishkan.
Why all the detailed counting and repetition?
I would like to suggest that in keeping with the theme of Sefer Vayikra
(Leviticus) and the final laws of last week's Parsha, the beginning of
Bamidbar is all about establishing that the true worth of a person is
determined solely by their willful service to Hashem.
In the concluding verses of Sefer Vayikra that we read last week (27:1-27)
the Torah detailed the exact value of a person.
A male adult between the ages of twenty and sixty is valued at fifty
silver shekels and a female of the same age is valued at 30. A male
between the ages of five and twenty is valued at twenty shekalim and a
female of the same age is valued at ten. A male between the ages of one
month and five years is valued at five shekalim and a female of the same
age is valued at three. A male over the age of sixty is valued at fifteen
shekalim and a female of the same age is valued at ten.
What are the circumstances where these monetary values are applied and why
did Sefer Vayikra end with this topic?
As we have learned many times before, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch defined
Sefer Vayikra as a presentation of the ideal that G-d intended for His
people. Sefer Bereshis established that separation (speciation) is natural
and essential for creation and that the family of Avraham was chosen from
the rest of humanity to be apart and different.
Sefer Shemos declared that the reason why the Jews were chosen was to
receive the Torah and live by its ideals and values. In doing so they
would fulfill the mandate to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
Sefer Vayikra is a detailed description of what a chosen life style of
kingship and sanctity should look like. It describes the goal toward which
we should aspire as a priestly and sanctified nation. Succinctly put, the
essence of Vayikra is how a person and a nation should serve G-d. Couched
in terms of the Korbanos, (sacrifices) framed within the confines of the
Mishkan, and performed by the family of Aharon Hakohain, Sefer Vayikra
describes a world of purpose and devotion in the service of G-d.
At the center of that pictured lifestyle were the lives and deaths of
Nadav and Avihu. As we explained, their deaths revealed that the essence
of service is devotion circumscribed and directed by discipline. There is
no room for innovation when serving G-d. G-d's law can be likened to a
perfect structure whose balance demands the faultless confluence of the
materials used, the foundation upon which it stands, and exacting
conditions of temperature, wind, and humidity. If even one element is out
of sync the structure will crumble. So too, the law of G-d in relation to
the laws of nature and the structure of the universe. G-d's universe is a
perfectly synchronized and balanced system whose intended functioning
requires perfect adherence to the letter and spirit of G-d's intentions.
That is why innovation of any kind, whether to add or to delete, can have
disastrous results. Rather than innovation leading to the evolution of an
ever strengthening truth, the opposite occurs. It momentarily appears to
be stronger and better, more applicable and accessible, when in truth all
we see is the external structure and have no awareness of the weakening
foundation and crumbling internal structure of the law, tradition, and the
nation. Instead of continuity there is defection and instead of truth
there is rationalization.
The bottom line is that it is G-d and only G-d Who determines true value
and purpose. That is why the final laws of Vayikra present a scale of
imposed monetary values regarding the individual. Practically speaking, if
a person promises to give his worth, or someone else's worth as a donation
to the Bais Hamikdash, it is not left up to the individual or the court to
decide the "worth" of another human. Instead, G-d gave a set scale of
values as the means for that individual to redeem his or her monetary
pledge to the Bais Hamikdash. It proclaims loud and clear that only G-d
can set the "price" of a human. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to view
each other as equally priceless. There can be no other moral or practical
conclusion except where otherwise designated by G-d Himself.
However, the end of Vayikra still begs clarification. Why would Hashem
make the distinctions that He does between age and gender? Why should it
appear as if women are "worth less" than men? Why should the post-sixty
be "less valuable" than the pre-sixty?
The answer must be that to conclude Divine chauvinism and bias is heresy,
illogical, and foolish. Instead, G-d chose a limited area of His law to
make a point. It is proper for humans to view each other as equal although
separate. In fact, it is incumbent upon each of us to consider each other
as equally valuable and necessary within the delicately balanced
complexity of G-d's universe. As such we should be determined to provide
for each other's well being and opportunities. We should desire excellence
for each other in everything that we are and everything that we do.
Underscoring that absolute value of separate but equal are the concluding
laws of Vayikra that arbitrarily assign lesser values to one half of
humanity over the other. It defies rational and confronts conventional
morality; nevertheless, the Torah's shopping list of monetary values
stands as a challenge to our assumption of purpose and value. We do not
determine truth, purpose and value - G-d does.
In G-d's eyes men and women, old and young, Jewish and non-Jewish, are all
equal so long as they do as He commands. The absolute is not what we do
but why we do it. What we should do is what He commands us to do. What we
do is not optional. The only area truly within the framework of our
freewill is why we do what we do. If we do it because that is what G-d
wants us to do then we are each as equal, as valuable, as righteous, and
as worthy as each other. However, if we do what we do because we want to
do it. If we do what we do because we decided that it is the right thing
to do. If we do what we do because it fits into the immediacy of our
life's circumstances. If we do what we do because of the above reasons
rather than doing it because we are commanded by G-d to do so, we suffer
the real danger of assigning values to each other that make "me" more
valuable and "you" less valuable.
In Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah presents us with the practical application of
Vayikra's ideals. How well did the nation do in subjecting themselves to
the absolutes of G-d's law? How successful were they in returning to the
absolute equality of the nation standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai "as one
individual with one heart?" This week's census and its continuation into
Parshas Noso begin to answer that question. Next week I will apply the
principle of 'It's why you do it not what you do," to the detailed census
that begins Sefer Bamidbar.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org