So, we find the Israelites in the wilderness “Bamidbar”, on the first day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year after they left Egypt. The first thing that Moses was told to do was to take a census, to count every head or prince of every tribe. Later readings, however, warn us about the census, such as in 1 Chronicles 21 where it says: “1 And Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” Vs 14 says” So, the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there seventy thousand men of Israel fell. In the understanding of our sages, HaSatan is not the devil; it is anyone or anything that can be an adversary and is often understood to be our own yetzer harah (our inclination to do evil). Before we do anything, let’s be sure that it is not going against what the Bore Olam is asking us to do. That is a great challenge for us and is why it’s so important to seek wise counsel.
If the Creator counted the people, it was for a purpose; it means that they mattered, they were counted. Let’s each ask ourselves: Do I count for anything; does my life matter? Remember that movie around Christmas, “It’s a Wonderful life?” In it, an angel appeared to show the hero of the story how different his world would have been if he had not been born. We may think that we don’t count and that’s why we don’t value our lives and our place in this world. The Torah teaches us that each life is precious.
The first thing Moses formed from the census was the army. Rabbi Percy (Ranebi) told us last year that “this depicts that the Creator was choosing the stronger to protect the weaker among us.”
Who is our army here in this community?
If we were to take a census of the families here, at a gathering of our tribes so to speak, how many could we count or in other words, how many can we count on? Some more, some less, some not at all. Each tribe had hundreds, if not thousands of children. For example, it says “of the tribe of Reuben, there were forty-six thousand five hundred”. Of course, there were no televisions back then, but the amount of people is less important than the principle behind the numbers. No matter how few or many we are, we make up a mosaic in which each piece has its place. As Ranebi taught us, “If we remove even one small piece of the mosaic, the entire picture is changed. We are each special and important and we are not to envy or take someone else’s designated role within the community.” Every man had to remain within his own tribe and be responsible for his own role. He was not to look at what others were doing or compare himself with them. We are each unique and each of our calling is unique.
I can just picture the organizing of everyone for the census…the thousands of men, women and children, the Tent of Meeting in the center, the Levites placed between the Mishkan and the people, and the standard bearers of each of the twelve tribes as they were being placed in order. What a sight! The Israelites would have to live in the middle of the desert and their only hope of survival was to remain within the community. Anyone who was banished or separated from the community could not have survived alone in the desert. How often have I heard Miriam say, I don’t know what I would do without this community?
Next, we read the names of the new priesthood, the cohanim, which was to descend from Aaron and immediately, they were reminded of the very strong message that the Creator gave Israel through the death of Nadab and Abihu. As with the census, God set down the proper way, His right way of doing things since He is a God of order. When we stray from his order, chaos ensues.
God told Moses to call all the Levites together and Moses would “present” them to all the people. They all knew their roles, now the rest of Israel would know, and they would need to be responsible for them. What are we responsible for in our lives? Are we being responsible or irresponsible? Has our role been presented to us, to our family, and to our community? A few of us have taken on the role of teaching the Torah and how to apply it to our lives. For that we are blessed and so is the community but the more that has been given, the more is required. A person cannot teach unless they are first willing to learn.
The Levites were to minister to the entire community. They were placed in such a way as to be the buffer between the Tent of Meeting and the people. Here is what is written about the Levites, “And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of all the firstborn who open the womb among the people of Israel; therefore, the Levites shall be mine… Mine shall they be; I am the LORD.”
How can we apply this today? Do you think that God wants the Levites of today to replicate all that they did in the Mishkan? Isn’t that taking things too literally? It was meant for that time. BUT the principle here is that those who relate to their role and responsibility are like His firstborn. We belong to God. Israel is called to be the firstborn of all nations.
Who are our Levites here?
As I continued reading the parashah, it said; 7 “And upon the table of the bread of display they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put on it the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and the jars for pouring out; and the continual bread shall be on it; 8 And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet and cover the same with a covering of goats’ skins and shall put in its poles.” Now, although it’s not stated here, I would wager that there were women helping in this area. Did you ever see the average man set a beautiful Shabbat dinner table? I doubt it. Now let me be clear, I’m not speaking of all men…but my point is that this community is made up of men and women. Women are the backbone of any home, office, organization or community. We were made for that. The roles of men and women are different but complimentary.
Each of us here is a student of Torah. As we read in our Siddur every Shabbat…” The Torah is a tree of life to those who take hold of it…” That’s what we do in this community. We read the Torah as a group. We learn from it and we do our best to do and to obey, (listen). Do we realize that when we say that we accept His covenant, we become part of Israel, not the state, but the people? We are all counted by the Creator. That’s Torah and that’s responsibility. We are part of His army, we are part of His Levites, we are His people…Jew and Gentile together as one.
The world is in a spiritual battle right now, and I believe that this small community holds the key to peace. The key is the Ten Commandments and they have been given to us to give to others. That is our role. Not to be religious; not to rebuild the Temple; just to build this small community and invite others in. That’s like inviting others onto the ark that saved Noah and his family. How easy was that? Another ark would later carry baby Moses who would receive the Ten Commandments from the Hand of the Creator and these Commandments would later be placed in another ark which would be carried by the Levites everywhere the people of Israel went. Today it’s in our hands and we are to carry it in our hearts so that we can be a light to all the nations.
by Peggy Pardo