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כל פקודי הלוים ... כל זכר מבן חדש ומעלה שנים ועשרים אלף

All the countings of the Leviim… every male from one month of age and up, were twenty-two thousand. (3:39)

The Ramban asks why Shevet Levi, the tribe most dedicated to serving Hashem in the Mishkan and later in the Bais HaMikdash, the tribe synonymous with Torah study and consummate devotion to the spiritual realm of Judaism, numbered far fewer in the census than any of the other tribes. Why should not Hashem’s devotees be as equally blessed as the rest of the nation? Ramban explains that Shevet Levi had not been enslaved. In Egypt, they were permitted to study Torah unabated. During this time, while Shevet Levi was sitting in the bais hamedrash, their brothers were out in the…

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ואלה תולדות אהרן ומשה... נדב ואביהו אלעזר ואיתמר

These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe… Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Isamar. (3:1,2)

Rashi notes that the pasuk begins by informing us who the offspring of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen were, but, in the end, only states the names of Aharon’s sons. What happened to Moshe’s sons? Rashi quotes the Talmud Sanhedrin 19a, asserting that the Torah is teaching us that Aharon’s sons were considered Moshe’s sons, because Moshe was their Rebbe: “Whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah, it is considered as if he caused his birth.” In other words, the individual who catalyzes a person’s spiritual development is likewise a partner in his physical life. Simply, we might say that a…

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כל יצאי צבא בישראל תפקדו אתם לצבאתם

Everyone who goes out to the legion in Yisrael – you shall count them according to their legions. (1:3)

The men appeared to have been counted as soldiers. The minimum age to serve as a soldier in the army (Jewish) – the legion – was twenty years old, since people achieve their physical maturity by then. Men older than sixty were no longer counted; they were past the age of military service. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh teaches that (miraculously) every Jew between the ages of twenty to sixty was physically able to serve as a soldier. The Kli Yakar says that each Jew was not only physically fit for Army service, but he was also spiritually fit to serve…

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וידבר ד' אל משה במדבר סיני

Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai. (1:1)

The Midrash teaches, “The Torah was given through three media: fire, water and wilderness.” The defining characteristic of Klal Yisrael throughout the ages has been their extraordinary ability to be moser nefesh, to self-sacrifice, for the Torah and their faith. Our People went to the executioner’s scaffold, the fires of the auto de fe, and the gas chambers with their faith and commitment intact. Whenever the tyrants gave them the choice of their religion or their life, the decision was always their religion. This unique power of commitment was highlighted during these – and other – challenging incidents in the…

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תפקדו אתם לצבאתם אתה ואהרן

You shall count them according to their legions – you and Aharon. (1:3)

Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen, working together with the tribal leaders, to take a census of all males over the age of twenty. Rashi and Ramban offer reasons for making the census at this point. One of the reasons offered by Ramban is particularly striking. Each member of the nation had an inherent right to benefit from the personal attention of Moshe and Aharon. What is a better opportunity for such interaction than a census in which each Jew would come before these two leaders and, after telling them his name, be counted as an individual of personal…

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כל יצא צבא בישראל תפקדו אתם לצבאתם אתה ואהרן

Everyone who goes out to the legion in Yisrael – you shall count them according to their legions, you and Aharon. (1:3)

Tifkedu osam, count them. The root of tifkedu is pakod, which means to appoint. While it does have other connotations, its root (as explained by Ramban) usually has the implication of concern for something or taking cognizance of the individual under discussion. It can be used as “remember,” as in “Hashem remembered Sarah” (Bereishis 21:1) or U’b’yom pakdi u’pokaditi aleihem, “And on the day that I make My account, I shall bring their sin to account against them” (Shemos 32:34), following the sin of the Golden Calf. Ramban feels that in the context of the census, pakod implies that the…

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ואתה הפקד את הלוים על משכן העדת ועל כל כליו ועל כל אשר לו

You shall appoint the Leviim over the Mishkan of the Testimony, over all of its utensils and everything that belongs to it. (1:50)

The Leviim were first appointed to their service in the Mishkan, and later they were counted. Why were they not counted immediately, like the rest of Klal Yisrael? The Shach explains that had they been counted prior to receiving their positions, they might have become disheartened by their census in proportion to the rest of the nation. There were only twenty-two thousand Leviim from the age of thirty days, in comparison with much larger numbers for each tribe – who were counted from the age of twenty years old. Once they were given their lofty positions serving in the Mishkan,…

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וידבר ד' אל משה במדבר סיני

Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai. (1:1)

The Torah was given to us in the Midbar, Wilderness – by design: Mah midbar hefker, af divrei Torah miskaymim b’mi she’mafkir atzmo, “Just as the Wilderness is ownerless, likewise, the words of Torah endure only in he who is mafkir, renders himself ownerless (abrogates himself, divests himself of himself; I am nothing!).” When a person feels himself to be insignificant, then that with which he comes in contact has greater value than himself. Thus, he values and respects it. Unless one values Torah, it will do nothing for him. One can own the most expensive piece of jewelry, but,…

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ואלה תולדות אהרן ומשה... נדב ואביהו אלעזר ואיתמר

These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe… Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Isamar. (3:2)

Interestingly, the pasuk indicates that it will detail the offspring of Aharon and Moshe, but only mentions the sons of Aharon HaKohen. Chazal (Sanhedrin 19b) infer from this pasuk (which mentions the offspring of Aharon) that one who teaches Torah to someone else’s children is considered as if he had fathered him. Moshe Rabbeinu taught Torah to his brother Aharon’s sons and, as a result, he was regarded to be their spiritual father. Moshe guided Aharon’s sons by example and by deed. His mentoring gave life to them in a manner similar to that of their biological father. Teaching Torah…

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הקרב את מטה לוי והעמדת אתו לפני אהרן הכהן ושרתו אתו

Bring near the tribe of Levi and have it stand before Aharon HaKohen, and they shall serve him. (3:6)

Shevet Levi was consecrated to a life of service, avodas ha’kodesh, holy service, both in the Sanctuary and as Torah teachers. The Levi set the standard for Jews to acknowledge and put to action: one does not live solely for himself. We are here to live a life of service – to Hashem and to the Jewish community. Concerning this pasuk (Hakreiv es mateh Levi), the Midrash quotes the pasuk in Sefer Tehillim (92:13): Tzaddik katamar yifrach k’erez ba’levanon yisgeh, “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he will grow tall.” The…

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