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Bamidbar(Numbers 1:1-4:20)

The Smallest Tribe

The tribe of Levi contained the holiest Divine servants, yet it numbered only 22,000 (Numbers 3:30), substantially less than any of the other tribes. What is the reason for this anomaly?

Nachmanides explains that when the Egyptians enslaved and afflicted the Jews, God blessed them and caused them to become even more numerous (Exodus 1:12). Because the Sages teach that the tribe of Levi was exempt from the servitude in Egypt, they therefore didn't merit the blessing of giving birth to six children at a time.

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh answers that at the time that Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish male babies would be killed in the Nile River, Amram divorced his wife, and the rest of the Levites followed his lead. Even though Amram subsequently remarried his wife, perhaps many of the other Levites did not, and therefore their population was much smaller.

The Beis HaLevi (MiShulchano Shel Beis HaLevi) suggests that because the tribe of Levi was sustained by other Jews through gifts of tithes, God intentionally made their tribe smaller so as not to overburden the rest of the Jews.

The Netziv (HaEmek Davar) posits that the Levites were already selected to serve God and were therefore judged more harshly, and their numbers were reduced due to their sins for which they were punished immediately.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman (Kovetz Ma'amorim) writes that God created the world in a manner in which everything which is loftier is rarer. For this reason, animals outnumber people and non-Jews outnumber Jews, so too are there more non-Levites than Levites.

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WAITING ONE MONTH TO COUNT

Rashi writes (Numbers 1:1) that God frequently counts the Jewish people to make His love for them known. Here, after He came to rest His Presence among them, He counted them once again. If the Tabernacle (Mishkan) was erected and God began to dwell there on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, why did He wait an entire month until Rosh Chodesh Iyar (1:1) to count them?

The Sifsei Chochomim cites the Talmud (Bava Basra 8a), which rules that somebody who takes a vow that he will have no benefit from the residents of a town is permitted to have benefit from those who haven't yet lived there for 30 days, as they're not considered permanent residents until they have lived there for 30 days. Similarly, although God began dwelling in the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, He waited to count the Jews until His dwelling there was considered permanent, which was on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 30 days later.

The Tzeidah L'Derech answers that the census was conducted by Moshe, Aharon, and the leaders of each tribe. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Moshe and Aharon were so busy consecrating the Mishkan and offering sacrifices there that they didn't have time to conduct a census. Additionally, Nachshon ben Aminadav, the leader of the tribe of Yehuda, also brought sacrifices on that day. Maimonides rules (Klei HaMikdash 6:9-10) that the day on which somebody brings an offering becomes a personal Yom Tov for him, and he is forbidden to do work on that day. As a result, the census couldn't be conducted on any of the first 12 days of Nissan, on which the tribal leaders brought their respective offerings. At that point were seven days of Pesach, and because the majority of the month had passed devoted to various spiritual obligations, the census was delayed until the following month.

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MULTIPLES OF 100

In relating the number of Jews in each tribe, the Torah records that the population of each tribe was a multiple of 100, with the exception of Gad, whose population was a multiple of 50 (Numbers 1:25). Was it really possible that every tribe had such a precisely even number of Jews, or did the Torah round the census to the nearest 50 or 100?

The Shaarei Aharon quotes the Imrei Noam, who maintains that the Torah isn't particular about small numbers, and suggests that the census for each tribe was rounded to the nearest 100. Since the tribe of Gad had precisely 50 extra people, their count couldn't be rounded either way.

As proof that the Torah rounds numbers, the Imrei Noam cites the commandment to count 50 days of the Omer even though we count only 49, and the verse ordering 40 lashes to be given to certain transgressors even though we give only 39. This is also the position of the Meshech Chochmah (3:16).

However, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky relates that he initially assumed that the census numbers were rounded, but when he mentioned this to his father, the Steipler responded that a number written in the Torah must be exact, and God must have had a reason why He miraculously caused each tribe to have such even numbers of people.

* * *

RAISING AN ORPHAN

Rashi quotes (3:1) the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b), which states that whoever teaches Torah to others is considered as if he gave birth to them. The Talmud there similarly teaches that whoever raises an orphan in his home is considered to have given birth to him. Can one who is unable to have children fulfill the mitzvah of having children through these methods, as it will be considered as if he gave birth to them?

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (Chochmas Shlomo - Even HaEzer 1:1) writes that this question is subject to a larger dispute. Whenever the Sages teach that A is considered like B, the Drisha maintains that such comparisons are not to be taken literally, and therefore a person could not fulfill the mitzvah to have children in this manner.

However, according to the Taz, who argues that the Sages intended to say that the two items being equated are legally one and the same, it would be possible for a couple to perform the mitzvah in this manner.

The Chasam Sofer (Even HaEzer 76) notes that while the Torah (Numbers 26:46) refers to Serach as the daughter of Asher, the Targum writes that she was actually the daughter of his wife from a previous husband. Because she was raised by Asher, the Torah refers to her as his daughter, indicating that one may fulfill the mitzvah to have children in this manner.

Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein adds that the Torah (Genesis 46:17) includes Serach in the count of 70 people who descended with Yaakov to Egypt. As the Torah (46:26) describes all 70 of them as Yaakov's descendants, this supports the idea that an adopted child is legally considered as one's own.

Published: May 17, 2012

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