Parashat Bamidbar (in the wilderness)

We start this week with the fourth book of the Torah, the book of Bamidbar – Numbers. The reading is Numbers 1:1 to 4:20. Bamidbar means “in the wilderness”. “Numbers” and “in the wilderness” both convey different aspects of the narrative since God spoke in the wilderness through Moses regarding taking a census and numbering all the Israelites according to their tribes. For each tribe, one person was to be appointed to work with Moses to oversee the counting.

Levi is not included initially since the census is interested in fighting men whereas the Levites are responsible for the operation and upkeep of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle.

The tribes, responsible person and numbers of men over twenty are as follows:-

Reuben Elizur son of Shedeur 46500
Simeon Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai 59300
Judah Nahshon son of Amminadab 74600
Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar 54400
Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon 57400
Joxeph
Ephraim Elishama son of Ammihud 40500
Manasseh Gamaliel son of Pedahzur 32200
Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni 35400
Dan Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai 62700
Asher, Pagiel son of Okran 41500
Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel 45650
Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan 53400
Total of Israelite fighting men   603550

The Levites are counted separately since their sole responsibility was the setting up and dismantling of the Mishkan and carrying its component parts while they were on the move. The Levites set up their camp around the Mishkan while each tribe encamped around its own flag.

The Levites were subdivided into clans each of which had a different area of responsibility in the Tabernacle. This is the Levite family tree

Moses and Aaron were the sons of Amram the Kohathite The sons of Aaron were Nadav, Abihu Eleazar and Itamar.  Nadav and Abihu were killed while offering “strange” (unauthorised) fire. The Levites did not serve in the Army so all males are counted from a month old.

The numbers and responsibilities of the Levite clans were: –

The Gershonites were led by Eliasaph son of Lael and numbered 7500. Their area of responsibility was the curtains and ropes in and around the Mishkan and its courtyard

The Kohathites were led by Elizaphan son of Uzziel and numbered 8600. They were responsible for the Ark table. the lampstand and everything used for ministering in the Sanctuary.

The Merarites were led by Zuriel son of Abihail and numbered 6200. They were responsible for the frame of the Tabernacle, its crossbars, pillars and posts.

This shows the detail of the Levite positions in the middle of the encampment around the Tabernacle which fits into the middle of the first drawing of the camp layout.

The Levites were dedicated to God and since the firstborn were also dedicated to God, each firstborn was exchanged for one Levite. This left 273 excess firstborn males not redeemed by exchanging them for a Levite, so five shekels were paid for each unredeemed Israelite providing 1365 shekels to be given to Aaron for the Sanctuary.

As part of their responsibility for looking after the Mishkan  furnishings, they were responsible for transporting it. The Holy objects had to be covered by Moses and Aaron with blue cloths They were to place the Ark the Alter the table and lampstand and all the associated utensils into a leather carrying bags. The Kohathites were to carry the bags while the camp was on the move but were forbidden on pain of death to look at or touch the articles themselves carried inside the leather containing bags.

The transportation was overseen by Eleazar the Priest. the eldest of Aaron’s surviving sons.

Haftarat B’midbar                          הפטרת במדבר

The Haftarah portion associated with B’midbar is Hosea 1:1-10 to 2:20. The verse numbering in the Hebrew text is different so the Massoretic text numbering is Hosea 2:1-22.

The association with the Torah portion is the numbers of the Israelites that had become like sand on the seashore. Nevertheless, their numbers did not reject the devotion to God. Hosea is instructed by the Lord to marry Gomer, who becomes an unfaithful wife and ends up as a concubine slave of another man. Hosea buys her back out of slavery and woos her back to betroth her to himself forever.

Hosea’s fraught marriage is an illustration of God’s love for Israel who He continues to love despite her idolatry and worship of the Baals. Like Hosea, God will woo the nation he once dissociated himself from and bring them back to the Covenant they rejected.

Hosea’s commitment to unfaithful Gomer is God’s commitment to unfaithful Israel

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in[
a] righteousness and justice,
in[
b] love and compassion.
 I will betroth you in] faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord
Hosea 2:19,20

 Messianic message

The census commanded by the LORD was not like the last US Presidential election. It was accurate and meticulous with responsible people being selected chosen to oversee and take ownership of it. It was precise to the point of knowing how much redemption money would be collected for the people who could not be redeemed in exchange for a Levite. (Numbers 3:50)

God knows all about us. All the tragedy and heartbreak people go through is not overlooked in Heaven. The hairs on our heads are numbered. (Matthew 10:30)

The prophet tells us that though we were once not God’s people we will once again become children of the living God.

Rav Shaul (Pau) uses this paradoxically to include people of non-Jewish birth to be included in His Covenant

I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
    and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one Romans 9:25

This verse from Hosea 1:10 can be applied in more than one way, to non-Jews who accept Messiah as well as Jewish people returning to the one failed to recognise.

Yeshua will never reflect anyone who comes to Him irrespective of origin.

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away John 6:37

Then we become His bride and enjoy all the love and security that that relationship brings

I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in[e] righteousness and justice,
    in[f] love and compassion.
  I will betroth you in
[g] faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the LordHosea 2:19,20

This Shabbat is special. Apart from celebrating the UK Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Shavuot begins as soon as Shabbat ends. Shavuot is both the time of the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Ruach Hakodesh , the Holy Spirit .

We also read on Shavuot, Megillat Rut, and the book on Ruth. Ruth is the story of someone not born into God’s Covenant people, but who by inheriting her mother-in-law’s redeemed property through her marriage to Boaz, became not only part of God’s people, but became the great grandmother of King David and ultimately the ancestor of the Messiah.

This article originally appeared on the BMJA website and is reposted with permission.