Parshat Bamidbar

The central theme of the book of Numbers is the second stage of the Israelites’ journey, physically from Egypt to the Promised Land, mentally from slavery to freedom. This parsha and that of the following week are about the preparations for that journey, the first of which was to take a census. To inherit the land the Israelites would have to fight battles. Hence the census, specifically of men between the ages of twenty and sixty – that is, those eligible to serve in war. The Levites were counted separately because it was not their role to fight but to minister in the Sanctuary.

Instructions were given as to the layout of the camp, which was to be a square with the Sanctuary in the middle. Three tribes were to set up their tents and banners on each side, while the Levites formed an inner square. The order in which they encamped was also the order in which they journeyed.

The duties of the family of Kehat – which also included Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, who had other roles – were spelled out. It was their task to carry the most sacred objects, the Ark, Table, Menorah, Altars, curtains, and holy vessels used in the sacrificial service, when the Israelites journeyed. This demanded special care.

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