Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Parshat Bemidbar

The Levites

Moshe was instructed to "Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel" (Bemidbar 1:2).Moshe subsequently counted twelve of Israel's tribe. They totaled 603,550 men over the age of 20.

However, this total does not include the tribe of Levi. They were counted separately as their men were not to be used in military conquest, but in the service of God. They were also counted from the age of one month (ibid 3:15) and again between the ages of 30 and 50 (ibid 4:3).

The first count was to signify their replacement over the firstborns while the second was to assign them their different roles.

Interestingly, the second census of the Levi'im was split into two. First the children of Kehat were counted (4:1-20) and then Gershon and Merari (ibid 21-49), in next week's parsha. Furthermore, God Himself tells Moshe and Aharon to separate Kehat rom the rest of the Levi'im: "Make a count of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi by their families" (ibid 4:2 and compare to ibid 22).

Kehat are given this extra special treatment not because Moshe and Aharon number among their ranks. They are treated differently because they have to be more careful, as God warned: "Do not cause the tribe of the families of Kehat to be cut off from among the Levies" (ibid 18). There is a real danger that Kehat's number will be drastically reduced through unintentional death. While Gershon's role was to carry the curtains of the Mishkan and Merari was to carry the beams, Kehat was to carry the sacred vessels such as the Ark and the Table.

These items must be handled with special care. Indeed, Uzza died from touching the Ark when his attention was to stop it from hitting the ground (see II Shmuel 6:6).

The slightest infringement and carelessness could result in death. Therefore God warns: "Do this for them, so they should live and not die, when they approach the Holy of Holies" (Bemidbar 4:19).

Kehat needs to be singled out so that they can live.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Bemidbar, entitled: " Re’uel or De’uel?" appears at

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