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Parashat B’midbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)

“Do not on any account enroll the tribe of Levi or take a census of them with the Israelites.” (Numbers 1:49)

Parashat B’midbar opens the fourth book of the Torah, also called B’midbar, in the wilderness of… In B’midbar, God orders Moses to prepare the Israelites for their wilderness trek by conducting a census of army-ready men: “S’u et rosh, raise the heads of the entire congregation… (Num. 1:2). The census does not include the women, children, or Levites. This raises a very contemporary question (in anticipation of the 2020 US Census): who counts (or gets counted) in the community?

B’midbar provides two powerful and unambiguous responses. The first is when B’midbar states, “Each person shall camp with their own standard, under the banners of their ancestral house…” (Num 2:2). The verse can be read to mean even though family history (the group) influences personal identity, individuality is always both recognized and celebrated.

The second is when B’midbar describes how the twelve tribes arrange themselves around the mishkan, or Tabernacle (Num. 2:2-31). This mimics the positions of Jacob’s twelve sons as they carry his coffin out of Egypt for burial in Canaan (B’midbar Rabah 2:8). Since each son has a unique relationship with his father (named Israel), together they embody the unique relationship and role of each individual toward k’lal yisrael, the people of Israel.

The positioning of the tribes around the mishkan also evokes the revelation at Sinai. Thus, B’midbar reinforces the idea all of Israel stood as one at Sinai in THE peak moment in Jewish history and Jewish unity. The ideal community is one in which everyone counts and everyone is counted.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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