June 4, 2022: Parashat Bamidbar – An Orderly Transition

This week’s parashah is taken from Numbers 1:1–4:20. Listen as David goes through this week's Torah portion, and provides a great perspective on this orderly transition, and how it applies to us today!

Click on the play button and follow along, with the notes below, as you listen to today's Parashat:

And so we crack open the next book, a new book in the Torah, the Book of Numbers, and we open up to the first part of Numbers 1:1:

וַיְדַבֵּ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֛ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י

“Hashem spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai…”

“Bamidbar” (“בְּמִדְבַּר”) means “In the Wilderness”. When you think of “wilderness”, what comes to mind? Desolate, inhospitable, desert land, right? It is precisely this environment that the Children of Israel wandered through for 40 years following their great salvation by the hand of Hashem out of Egypt, and before entering the Promised Land.

On a spiritual level, what does the wilderness represent? It is precisely this sort of challenging environment that Hashem brings His children through as a testing ground. The act of salvation is such a mighty and powerful experience – coming into the knowledge of our Heavenly Father, and the freedom from our former lives of bondage. But it is the life after that moment that matters just as much as we learn to live our lives in a material and secular world while simultaneously learning to cleave to and draw closer to Hashem.

It is against this backdrop that we open up this week’s parashah and find Hashem telling Moses to conduct a “counting” of the people… a “census” (hence the English name of the Book of Numbers). In Canada, a “census” is conducted every five years. If you have ever had the opportunity to evaluate the data collected and analyzed (which takes a year to complete), it features intricate details of the population – tally according to gender, race, language, income, occupation, living arrangements, and the list goes on. The data carries valuable insights with a host of useful, decision-making purposes for both the public and private sectors of the economy.

We read on in Numbers 1:2:

שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל

Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel…”

As an aside, I just included the most common translation of “שְׂאוּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ”, which is “Take a census”, but a literal translation of the Hebrew yields: “Raise the head”. Some food for thought, but you will have to wait till next week’s parashah when we unwrap this.

Here in the Wilderness of Sinai, Hashem asked Moses to conduct a census – the second of three in the Torah. What is interesting here is that the first census was done right after the sinning of the Golden Calf, at which point the men of Israel (above the age of 20) totalled 603,550 across all of the tribes. Here, six months later, this census also interestingly totalled 603,550. There is one notable difference though – the Tribe of Levi was included in the tally the first time, but not the second time – meaning that between the two censuses, the rest of the tribes increased in number according to the number of Levites recorded in the first census. Clearly, the reason for this second census had to do with the Levites; and Hashem chose this precise point in time to do so when the rest of the tribes reached 603,550 men, the same tally as in the first census.

Why the separation of the Levites from the rest of the tribes? We find the answer in Numbers 3:45:

קַ֣ח אֶת־הַלְוִיִּ֗ם תַּ֤חַת כָּל־בְּכוֹר֙ בִּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל

"Take the Levites in place of every firstborn among the Children of Israel…”

וְהָיוּ־לִ֥י הַלְוִיִּ֖ם אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה

“The Levites shall be Mine: I am Hashem."

The Levites were about to take on the elevated status of “firstborn”, previously held by all male firstborns of Israel. Interestingly in this second census, the Levites were counted from one month of age and up, whereas the rest of the tribes were counted from 20 years of age and up. It wasn’t sufficient to only include Levites above the age of 20, but rather it had to include every single Levite in the tribe. This transfer of firstborn was to be a complete sanctification for the tribe of Levi, and it was to last forever.

Not only do we learn of the separation through sanctification of the Levites from the rest of the tribes, but we gain further instructions in Numbers 1:53:

וְהַלְוִיִּ֞ם יַחֲנ֤וּ סָבִיב֙ לְמִשְׁכַּ֣ן הָעֵדֻ֔ת וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֣ה קֶ֔צֶף עַל־עֲדַ֖ת בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל

“The Levites shall encamp around the Tabernacle of the Testimony so that there shall be no wrath upon the assembly of the Children of Israel…”

Moving forward, it was the sole duty of the Levites to safeguard the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and later, the Mikdash (Temple). In a very precise way, each of the three families from among the Levites – Kohath, Gershon and Merari – were positioned around the Mishkan, to the South, West and North, respectively; the most notable of the Kohathites, the Kohanim (priesthood) – which included Aaron and his sons (as well as Moses) – were positioned to the East, at the entrance to the Mishkan. As the Levites were sanctified unto Hashem, they lived their lives on a spiritually elevated level, and as such, they were intended to serve as role models for the tribes, to show the tribes what a sanctified life to Hashem looked like. And even more so for the Kohanim who were to be the only ones eligible to handle the vessels of the Mishkan and to perform the Mishkan service.

Around the Levites, in a similarly precise manner, the 12 tribes were positioned in camps of three – to the West, South, East and North, again, with the most prominent camp headed by Judah located to the East. This very precise positioning never changed throughout the 40 years that Israel spent in the Wilderness. The Mishkan was in the center, guarded by the Levites on all four sides, and finally the 12 tribes surrounded the Levites.

Think of this another way – corresponding to the 6 physical dimensional directions (up, down, west, south, east, north) of this world:

  • The Mishkan became the dwelling place for the Shechinah – a conduit between Heaven and Earth (UP and DOWN)

  • The Kohanim and First Camp were to the EAST of the Mishkan

  • The Kohathites and Second Camp were to the SOUTH

  • The Gershonites and Third Camp – were to the WEST

  • The Merarites and Fourth Camp – were to the NORTH

This is a model of order speaking primarily to the four directions in which we move within this physical world. It is the addition of the Mishkan that adds the additional two spiritual directions allowing us to connect to our Father in Heaven.

This is an earthly rendition of a Heavenly concept. The Book of Revelation (Revelation 21) speaks of a Holy Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven, with 12 gates – three on each side, with length, width and height all equal in measurement. On a more esoteric level, Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1) describes the Divine Chariot being upheld by four Chayot (a class of angels meaning “Living Ones”) with four faces and four wings.

What are we being taught here? Hashem was showing Israel that each and every one of the 12 tribes had a unique role and placement in the makeup of the nation. Hashem was prescribing for them their placement in an orderly fashion around the epicenter where His Shechinah was to reside. This model served them for the next nearly 40 years they would traverse the Wilderness. Only while they were in the Wilderness did the Levites serve as a form of “partition” between the 12 tribes and the Mishkan.

Yet, this “partition” was never intended to be there. The elevation of the Levites to firstborn status was given only after the sinning of the Golden Calf. Before that event occurred, Hashem said to Moses in Exodus 19:6: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This was a “temporary” partition, intended to remind the people that their sin created a “space”… a “gap” between them and Hashem, and Hashem chose the Levites to fill that “space” to ensure that there remained a connection fully consecrated in holiness to Him. The people were to look at the Levites as role models on how to sanctify their own lives before entering and taking possession of the Land of Promise.

What about us today? The same messaging remains. We have our feet grounded here on earth. We have our duties, obligations and desires to accomplish and pursue in our lifetimes. It is up to us to determine what is our epicenter, what is our source – is it the materialism and vanity of this world or is it our desire to connect to Hashem, our Creator? Just as the Levites were role models for the 12 tribes, showing them how to similarly sanctify and elevate their lives, we have Yeshua HaMashiach who is our point of eternal salvation connecting us to Hashem.

Yeshua said to his disciples in John 14:16-17:

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one will come to the Father except by me. If you only knew me, you would also know my Father. From now on you know Him and have also seen Him.”

Yeshua is THE way, THE truth and THE life… in drawing closer to Hashem. He was and is the express image of His Heavenly Father, and as such, provides us with the perfect model to base our own lives upon if we so desire to draw closer to Him as well.

Do we desire to partner with Hashem or not? If we desire to partner with Him, then we must learn to replicate Yeshua our Saviour in intents, deeds and actions. Only then can we learn our “prescribed” place within the framework of Hashem’s Kingdom here on earth. What are the abilities and skills that He has blessed us with? Are we using them to the fullest potential? Are we operating in perfect unity with Him and with the rest of the Kingdom?

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:20-26:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many… As it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” …God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

May we fix our eyes on Hashem. May we replicate Yeshua HaMashiach to sanctify our lives in the service of Him. May we learn our place in His Kingdom. May we serve Him with all our hearts, souls, minds and strengths. And may we be one with each other and with Him as one body, not divided, but in perfect unity.


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