Parashat Bamidbar: Summary

Moses conducts a census of the Israelites; God describes the unique duties of the Kohath family of priests.

Commentary on Parashat Bamidbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20

God told Moses to, “Take a total count of the entire community of the sons of Israel according to their families, according to their father’s house, counting the names of all males twenty years old and upward.”

But the Levites were not allowed to number themselves among them. For you shall appoint the Levites over the Dwelling Place of the Testimony. They shall carry the Dwelling Place of the Tent of Appointed Meeting and minister to it and camp around it. All the other sons of Israel shall camp with their own tribe, according to their divisions, at some distance around the Tent of Appointed Meeting.

Each of the descendants of Aaron (Moses’ brother) were anointed as priests, but Nadab and Abihu died when they brought a strange fire before God. Since they had no sons, only Eleazar and Ithamar remained to minister as priests.

God spoke to Moses saying, “I shall take these Levites from amidst the sons of Israel in place of every first-born, for all that is firstborn is Mine. On the day I struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I sanctified for Myself all that is first-born in Israel from man to beast. They shall remain Mine.” The sons of Levi are then counted and named from one month old and upward.

Moses and Aaron and his sons are to camp in front and east of the Dwelling Place and keep charge of it. Any outsider who comes near is liable to the death penalty.

God spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, “Have the Kohathites among the Levites perform tasks for the Tent of Meeting that concern the most sacred objects. At the breaking of camp Aaron and his sons shall take down the screening curtain and cover the Ark of the Pact. They shall cover all that is within the ark with special cloths, including the sacred objects, so that they do not come in contact with these sacred objects and die. Then the Kohathites shall come and lift these sacred objects.”

Eleazer, son of Aaron the priest, shall be responsible for the lighting oil, the aromatic incense, the regular meal offering and the anointing oil, the whole Tabernacle and everything consecrated in it or its vessels.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying “Do not let the group of Kohathite clans be cut off from the Levites. Let Aaron and his sons go in and assign each of them to his duties so that the Kohathites shall live and not die when they approach the most sacred objects.”

Parashat Bamidbar Discussion Questions

1. There is a precise counting of all the tribes of Israel. Why do you think only men over the age of twenty were counted for all the tribes except the Levites, while even one-month-old Levite males were later counted? What about the women–didn’t they count to God?

2. Do you consider yourself a member of a certain tribe of Israel? If so, which one and why?

3. The text suggests that if someone besides a Kohathite comes in contact with a sacred object in the Tent of Appointed Meeting that person will die. What are some of the sacred objects in today’s sanctuaries? Do you feel that strict rules regarding sacred objects are still necessary? Do you feel that death should still be a consequence for not obeying the rules regarding sacred objects?

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!

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