FROM THE TORAH
The fourth book of the Torah opens in Sedra Bemidbar with a robust offering of concrete data: leaders’ names and genealogies, numerical results of more than one census, arrangement and position of tribes and divisions, and detailed job descriptions. All of these focus on the crucial secondary occupation of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai after the operation of sanctities: the protection and maintenance of sacred equipment through journeying and encampment.
Census and Assignment
PREPARATION FOR THE GENERAL CENSUS
The Eternal speaks to Moses in the Wilderness (Bemidbar) of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month in the second year of their Exodus from the land of Egypt:
Count each male of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, by their names, family by family, according to their father’s house, from the age of twenty and older, whoever would serve in the army of Israel. Record them by their groups, you and Aaron, together with a man of each tribe who is the head of his father’s house, and these are their names, preceded by the name of their tribe:
Reuben: Elitsur ben Shedeyur;
Simeon: Shelumiel ben Tsurishaddai;
Judah: Nachshon ben Amminadav;
Issachar: Netanel ben Tsuar;
Zebulun: Eliav ben Cheylon;
Ephraim of the sons of Joseph: Elishama ben Ammihud;
Manasseh of the sons of Joseph: Gamliel ben Pedahtsur;
Benjamin: Avidan ben Gidoni;
Dan: Achiezer ben Ammishadai;
Asher: Pagiel ben Ochran;
Gad: Elyasaf ben Deuel; and
Naphtali: Achirah ben Enan.
These are the designees of the congregation, the chiefs of the tribes of their fathers, the heads of the thousands of Israel, whom Moses and Aaron select when they assemble all of the congregation for the registering of their names, on the first day of the second month, as the Eternal commands Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai.
RESULTS OF THE CENSUS
The numerical enrollments, tribe by tribe, are as follows:
Descendants of Reuben, first-born of Israel: 46,500;
Descendants of Simeon: 59,300;
Descendants of Gad: 45,650;
Descendants of Judah: 74,600;
Descendants of Issachar: 54,400;
Descendants of Zebulun: 57,400;
Descendants of Joseph who are descendants of Ephraim: 40,500;
Descendants of Joseph who are descendants of Manasseh: 32,200;
Descendants of Benjamin: 35,400;
Descendants of Dan: 62,700;
Descendants of Asher: 41,500; and
Descendants of Naphtali: 53,400.
The total enrollment is 603,550.
UNIQUE STATUS OF THE LEVITES
These recordings do not include the Levites because Moses was told by the Eternal not to enroll them or count them among the Children of Israel: You shall put the Levites over the Tabernacle of the Testimony, its furnishings, and all that pertains to it. They shall carry the Tabernacle and its furnishings, minister to it, and encamp around it, taking it apart when it sets out and setting it up when it encamps. Any outsider who approaches shall be put to death. As the Children of Israel are arranged in their respective camps under their banners, the Levites would encamp around the Tabernacle of Testimony to prevent wrath from striking the congregation of the Children of Israel. The Levites are to stand guard over the Tabernacle of Testimony.
Thus do the Children of Israel, in accordance with all that the Eternal commands Moses.
ORDER OF ENCAMPMENT AND JOURNEYING
The Eternal instructs Moses and Aaron on the position of each tribe when encamped around the Tent of Meeting and their respective order when journeying. All of the tribes, except for Levi, are divided into four divisions:
In the division of Judah, the tribe of Judah is encamped in front, on the east side, next to it the tribe of Issaschar, then the tribe of Zebulun, 186,400 men in all, journeying first.
In the division of Reuben, the tribe of Reuben is encamped on the south, next to it the tribe of Simeon, then the tribe of Gad, 151,450 men in all, journeying second.
Then, in the journey, comes the Tent of Meeting and the Levites, marching in the order by which they are encamped.
In the division of Ephraim, the tribe of Ephraim is encamped on the west, next to it the tribe of Manasseh, then the tribe of Benjamin, 108,100 men in all, journeying third.
In the division of Dan, the tribe of Dan is encamped on the north, next to it the tribe of Asher, then the tribe of Naphtali, 157,600 men in all, journeying last.
Thus do the Children of Israel, in accordance with all that the Eternal commands Moses. They encamp under their respective banners, and they journey by their families, each by his father’s house.
GENEALOGY OF AARON AND HIS SONS
These were the generations of Aaron and Moses when the Eternal spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai: Aaron’s sons were Nadav the first-born, Avihu, Elazar, and Ithamar—they were the anointed who were ordained to serve as Kohanim. But Nadav and Avihu died before the Eternal when they offered unauthorized fire before the Eternal in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no sons. So only Elazar and Ithamar would serve as Kohanim before their father Aaron.
SERVICE AND CENSUS OF THE LEVITES
The Eternal charges Moses to place the tribe of Levi at the service of Aaron the Kohen. They shall keep the service of the Tabernacle for Aaron and for the entire congregation before the Tent of Meeting and with respect to its implements. Assign Aaron and his sons responsibility for their Kehunah (Priesthood). An unauthorized person who approaches shall be put to death.
The Eternal declares to Moses that He is taking the Levites from among the Children of Israel in place of the Firstborn, first issue of the womb, “and the Levites shall be Mine” (Numbers 3:12). By this designation the Levites will replace the Firstborn, who became the Eternal’s when He struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt and sanctified every firstborn in Israel, from man to beast, as His own (cf. Exodus 12:29-13:1).
The Eternal charges Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai to record every male of the children of Levi, according to their families and father’s house, from the age of one month and older. Moses does accordingly.
The sons of Levi are Gershon, Kehath, and Merari.
The sons of Gershon are Livni and Shimei. The combined number of male Livnites and Shimeites is 7,500. They encamp behind the Tabernacle, to the west. The head of the father’s house is Elyasaf son of Lael. Their duties of service relate to the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, the Tent, its Covering, the Screen for the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, the hangings of the Court, the Screen for the entrance of the Court which surrounds the Tabernacle, and its cords.
The sons of Kehath are Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, and Uzziel. The combined number of male Amramites, Yitzharites, Chevronites, and Uzzielites, is 8,600. They encamp on the south side of the Tabernacle. The head of the father’s house is Elitzaphan son of Uzziel. Their duties of service relate to the Ark, the Table, the Menorah, the Altars and their sacred utensils, and the Screen.
The chief over the heads of the Levites is Elazar son of Aaron for matters attending to service of the Sanctuary.
The sons of Merari are Machli and Mushi. The combined number of male Mahlites and Mushites is 6,200. They encamp on the north side of the Tabernacle. The head of the father’s house is Tsuriel son of Avichayil. Their duties of service relate to the planks of the Tabernacle and its bars, posts, sockets, and all of its furnishings, the posts surrounding the Court and their sockets, pegs, and cords.
In front of the Tabernacle, to the east, encamp Moses and Aaron and his sons, keeping the service of the Sanctuary on behalf of the Children of Israel. The unauthorized person who approaches shall be put to death.
The sum of all the Levites recorded by Moses and Aaron by the word of the Eternal is 22,000.
REDEMPTION OF THE FIRSTBORN
The Eternal charges Moses to count and record the name of every firstborn male of the Children of Israel from the age of one month and older. Moses would take the Levites for the Eternal in place of every firstborn male of the Children of Israel and the cattle of the Levites in place of their cattle. The number of all firstborn males of the Children of Israel comes to 22,273, which reflects 273 firstborn males in excess of the sum of all the Levites. The Eternal then instructs Moses to take a redemption price of five shekels, by the sacral weight, twenty gerahs to the shekel, from each of the 273 firstborn males in excess of the sum of all the Levites, for a total of 1,365 sacral shekels, to be given to Aaron and his sons, and so he does.
SERVICE AND CENSUS OF THE SONS OF KEHATH
The Eternal explains to Moses and to Aaron that the sons of Kehath would be responsible for the most holy objects in the Tent of Meeting (cf. Numbers 3:31). He commands a special census for them, according to their families and their fathers’ houses, from the ages of thirty to fifty years, all who are subject to that assignment.
When the camp begins a journey, Aaron and his sons shall take down the Dividing Curtain and use it to cover the Ark of Testimony. They shall cover that with tachash skin and then spread a pure blue cloth over it. They shall install its poles. (Cf. Exodus 25:10-22)
Over the Display Table they shall spread a blue cloth, upon which they shall place the bowls, the ladles, the jars, and the regular bread. Over these they shall spread a crimson cloth and cover that with a Covering of tachash skin. They shall install its poles. (Cf. Exodus 25:23-30)
With a blue cloth they shall cover the Menorah and its lamps, its tongs, its fire pans, and all of the oil vessels that are used in its service. They shall put it and its accessories into a Covering of tachash skin and place it on a bar. (Cf. Exodus 25:31-40)
Over the Golden Altar they shall spread a blue cloth and cover it with a Covering of tachash skin, and they shall install its poles. They shall put all of the accessories that are used in the Sanctuary service into a blue cloth and cover them with a Covering of tachash skin and place it on a bar. (Cf. Exodus 30:1-10)
They shall remove the ashes from the Altar and spread over it a purple cloth. They shall place upon it all of the accessories that are used for it—the fire pans, the forks, the shovels, the basins—all of the instruments of the Altar, and spread over it a Covering of tachash skin and install its poles. (Cf. Exodus 27:1-8)
When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sacred objects and accessories at the journeying of the camp, only then shall the sons of Kehath come to carry them, without touching the objects directly and thereby incurring death.
Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen shall be responsible for the Lighting Oil, the Aromatic Incense, the Meal of the Regular Offering, and the Anointing Oil, among his responsibilities for the entire Tabernacle and all things in it, both holy things and accessories.
The Eternal cautions Moses and Aaron to protect the sons of Kehath from even seeing the sacred objects when they are being dismantled, lest they die and the tribe of the families of Kehath is cut off from the Levites. Let Aaron and his sons, then, supervise the assignment of the sons of Kehath to their duties of porterage.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Machar Chodesh
Erev Rosh Chodesh
I Samuel 20:18-42
David has fled from King Saul
in fear of Saul’s antagonism and jealousy.
He enlists the help of the King’s son Jonathan,
whom he loves and trusts,
to determine the degree of danger
he faces at Saul’s hand.
David Separates from Saul
Jonathan reveals his plan to David. On the morrow the New Moon (Machar Chodesh) will be celebrated at the King’s table, and David’s absence will be noticed by the King. They would wait two days to allow Saul to register his feelings in response to David’s absence.
On the first day Saul shows no outward response, as he thinks that David was prevented from participating in the meal because he is ritually impure.
When Saul notes David’s absence on the second day, he asks Jonathan about it. Jonathan provides an explanation which attributes David’s absence to his wanting to honor his family in Bethlehem for a family sacrifice there. At this Saul’s anger is kindled not only against David but also against Jonathan. He calls Jonathan “the son of a perverse and rebellious woman” (cf. I Samuel 14:49-50), accusing him of inheriting his mother’s disloyalty in his affection for David (cf. I Samuel 25:43); and he declares, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingship will be established, so send for him and bring him to me, for he is deserving of death” (I Samuel 20:31)! Jonathan protests, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” (I Samuel 20:32) At that Saul takes his spear as if to strike him (as he had done to David before; cf. I Samuel 18:11).
Seeing that his father is intent on putting David to death, Jonathan leaves the table. His anger and embarrassment prevent him from eating on the second day of the month. The next morning, the morning of the third day, David, according to plan, is waiting at the Ezel Stone for a secret message from Jonathan regarding the King’s intentions towards David.
Jonathan takes a little lad with him to the designated field at the designated time. Jonathan will shoot three arrows and order the lad to fetch them. If he arranges and declares aloud that the arrows are between the lad and him, that will be a signal for David to gather them and return in peace, in the event that Saul bears him no enmity. But, as Saul clearly demonstrated his murderous hostility to David, Jonathan shoots the arrows beyond the lad’s position and so declares aloud that the arrows are beyond the lad. That is the signal for David not to return, for his own safety, in Jonathan’s words, “Go your way, for the Eternal has sent you away” (I Samuel 20:22)!
The lad, knowing nothing of the plan between David and Jonathan, gathers up the arrows and returns to Jonathan. Jonathan sends the lad back to the city with his weapons. After the lad is gone, David falls on his face to the ground and prostrates himself three times. David and Jonathan kiss each other and weep with each other, David especially so. Jonathan says to David, “Go in peace inasmuch as the two of us have sworn by the Name of the Eternal: May the Eternal be between me and you, between my offspring and your offspring for ever” (I Samuel 20:42).
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Numbers Rabbah 1:2
Tanchuma Bemidbar 2
“The Eternal speaks to [el] Moses
in the wilderness [bemidbar]…”
This verse brings to mind the Prophet’s words:
“‘Why do you complain against Me?’ says the Eternal.
Oh you generation, behold the word of the Eternal:
‘Have I been a wilderness to Israel, a land of darkness?
Why do My people say, “We are free! We will come no more to You!”?’”
The Eternal is speaking to [el] Israel’s complaint against Moses
regarding the wilderness [bamidbar],
“Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?!” (Numbers 21:5)
He is responding: Have I been like a wilderness to Israel?
When a king of flesh and blood departs from his palace to the wilderness, what does he expect to find there? A place of luxury such as he finds in a palace? Or a comparable bill of fare? But you left not a palace. You were slaves to Egypt, and I brought you out from there and placed you on couches! “God turned the people around [vayaseyv] by way of the wilderness [derech hamidbar]” (Exodus 13:18)—In what way did He turn the people around? He turned them around the table on couches [mesubeen] in the way [derech] of kings, in the wilderness [hamidbar]!
And did I not present you with three extraordinary mentors—
Moses, Aaron and Miriam?!
By virtue of Moses you ate Manna, something that the Holy Patriarchs never even imagined: “He fed you with Manna, which neither you nor your Fathers had known, in order to teach you that a person lives not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Eternal” (Deuteronomy 8:3)! How do we know that the Manna was by virtue of Moses? Because “the Manna ceased on the day after” (Joshua 5:12) the death of Moses!
By virtue of Aaron I protected you with the Clouds of My Presence: “He spread out clouds for a cover” (Psalms 105:39)! According to Rabbi Yoshiah, there were five clouds: four for the four directions and one proceeding before them (cf. Exodus 13:21). According to Rabbi Hoshayah, there were seven clouds: four for the four directions, one over them, one below them, and one proceeding three days before them (cf. Numbers 10:33-34). It would protect you from snakes and scorpions and rocks (cf. Deuteronomy 8:15), and it would make your path level, as we interpret the Prophet’s prayer (Isaiah 40:4): “Let every valley be raised [yinasey]…”—Every valley shall be raised [yinasey]—“…and let every hill and mountain be made low [yishpalu]”—Every hill and mountain shall be made low [yishpalu]! Mirkin Commentary: How can this prayer of Isaiah about the Redemption of Jerusalem be associated with God’s protection during the earlier Exodus from Egypt in the wilderness? “As in the days of your Exodus from the land of Egypt, shall I show him wonders” (Micah 7:15)! And how do we know that the Clouds were by virtue of Aaron? Because following the death of Aaron (cf. Numbers 20:27-28), “the people grew restive on the journey” (Numbers 21:4) because the sun beat down upon them, “And the Eternal sent snakes against the people…biting them…and causing the death of many” (ibid. 6)!
By virtue of Miriam did the Well provide Israel with water in the wilderness: “The Eternal said to Moses, ‘Assemble the people that I may give them water,’ whereupon Israel sings this song: ‘Arise, O Well, for her reprise [enu lah]’” (Numbers 21:16-17)! For the sake of Miriam’s reprise did Israel secure water from the Well. What was her reprise? After Moses and Israel sang the Song at the Sea, “Miriam the Prophetess took the timbrel in her hand, all of the women following with timbrels and with dancing, and Miriam reprised for them [vata’an lahem], ‘Sing to the Eternal, for He has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider has He cast into the Sea’” (Exodus 15:20-21; cf. 15:1)! And how else do we know that water from the Well was provided to Israel in the wilderness by virtue of Miriam? Because when Miriam died (cf. Numbers 20:1), “the congregation was without water” (Numbers 20:2)!
The Well was a large round Rock [Sela] (cf. Numbers 20:2-11) that followed Israel on their journeys through the wilderness. When they encamped and the Tabernacle was set up, the Rock would settle in the court of the Tent of Meeting. Then the chiefs (cf. Numbers 20:6) would come and stand over it, declaring, “Arise, O Well, for her reprise,” and the Well would rise. After that I brought you quail (cf. Exodus 15:25,27; 16:13). “Have I been a wilderness to Israel, a land of darkness” (Jeremiah 2:31)?! Did I not, by My own hand, provide illumination for you? “The Eternal went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to show them the way and by night in a pillar of fire to provide them light in order that they could proceed day and night” (Exodus 13:21)!
“Why do My people say, ‘We are free [radnu]! We will come no more to You!’” (Jeremiah 2:31)? Interpret what they are saying: “He subjugated us [radnu]” (cf. I Kings 5:4); that is, You broke down our Temple and removed Your Presence from us! What else can You ask of us? “We will come to You no more” (Jeremiah 2:31)! His response to them: Would that I were in the wilderness even now! “Oh, to be in the wilderness, at a lodging of wayfarers; I would leave My people, who are all of them unfaithful, ‘heroic’ in the Land for treachery, not for honesty—declares the Eternal” (Jeremiah 9:1-2)!
“Sing to the Eternal a new song,
His praise from the ends of the earth…
Let the wilderness and its cities lift their voices [yis’u]…
Let the inhabitants of Sela [yo’shevey Sela] shout [yaronnu]…”
Where can I expect to be newly praised?
“The wilderness and its cities will lift their voices [yis’u]…
Those who settle by the Rock [yo’shevey Sela]
(Well of Miriam in the wilderness)
will shout praises [yaronnu]!”
He may be likened to a prince who entered a certain land. When its inhabitants saw him, they fled from before him. He entered another land, and its inhabitants, too, fled from before him. Then he entered a city that already lay in ruins, and its inhabitants welcomed him and showered praise upon him. Said the prince: This (ruined) city is the best of all the lands. Here shall I build my palace; here shall I dwell! Thus it was, when the Holy One, blessed be He, came to the Sea, it fled from before Him: “The Sea saw him and fled…” (Psalms 114:3a). Then, “…the Jordan was turned backwards” (ibid. 3b). But when He came to the wilderness, a ruin, it welcomed Him and showered praise upon Him: “The wilderness and its cities would lift their voices [yis’u]…
Those who settle by the Rock [yo’shevey Sela] (Well of Miriam in the wilderness) would shout praises [yaronnu]” (Isaiah 42:11)! Said He: This (ruined) place is for Me the best of all the places. Here shall I build My Temple, and in it shall I dwell!
“Let the arid desert be happy [yesusum]
and let the dry plain rejoice [vetageyl]…
they shall behold the Presence of the Eternal,
the beauty of [hadar] our God!”
Then they will be happy that the Holy One, blessed be He,
would be dwelling therein:
“The arid desert shall be happy [yesusum]
and the dry plain shall rejoice [vetageyl]…
when they will behold the Presence of the Eternal,
who dwells [hadar] (therein), our God!”
Numbers Rabbah 1:7
Wilderness as a Setting for Torah
“The Eternal speaks to Moses
in the Wilderness of Sinai…”
Since we already know that Moses and the Children of Israel were in the Wilderness of Sinai, what are these apparently redundant words meant to teach us?
Our Sages answered the question by observing that the Torah was given in a setting of three natural conditions: Fire, Water, and Wilderness. Fire? “Now Mount Sinai was enveloped in smoke, because the Eternal descended upon it in fire…” (Exodus 19:18)! Water? “O Eternal, when You departed from Seir (on Your way to Sinai)…the earth trembled…the clouds dropped water” (Judges 5:4)! Wilderness? “The Eternal speaks to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai…” (Numbers 1:1)!
But why was the Torah given in association with these three conditions? Because just as these three are free and available to all the inhabitants of the world, so also are words of Torah free and available to all the inhabitants of the world. That is what the Prophet meant when he said, “Ho, all who thirst, come for the water…” (Isaiah 55:1): All who thirst for Torah will find it to be as free and available as water!
Here is another answer to what the words, “in the Wilderness of Sinai,” are meant to teach us: In order to acquire wisdom and learning as we find it in the Torah, one needs to be as open and free as the wilderness itself!
Numbers Rabbah 2:6
How God Found Israel
Ultimately He organized Israel:
“Let the hosts of the Children of Israel encamp,
each man by his division,
each man by his banner.”
But first He found them:
“The Children of Israel, His people,
whom He found in the wilderness,…”
In the wilderness?
Did He not find us in Egypt?!
He means to characterize God’s finding of Israel in the sense of a gift: The Holy One, blessed be He, found Israel at first to be refreshing, as the Prophet said, “I found Israel to be like grapes in the desert; I saw your fathers like the first fig to ripen on the tree” (Hosea 9:10).
“…in a wasted, howling wilderness;”
Such was the world before Israel went out from Egypt and received the Torah. The world, then without Torah, was a wilderness! But once they came out of Egypt and received the Torah, then:
“He surrounded him,
He attended him,
He guarded him,
like the pupil of His eye.”
“He surrounded him” in that He surrounded Israel in the wilderness with Clouds of His Presence (cf. Sifre Numbers Beha’alot’cha 25 and 48).
“He attended him” in the sense of teaching: He taught them words of Torah in the wilderness (cf. Talmud Sanhedrin 56b on Exodus 15:25; Exodus 19:1-23:19 et al).
“He guarded him”: Happy are the ears who heard (cf. Deuteronomy 32:1) through these words how much He loved them (by “surrounding” them), how much He assured their observance (by “teaching them words of Torah”), and how closely He guarded them as if they were “the pupil of His eye,” as if they were His own eyes!
For not only did their ears hear but their eyes saw how He surrounded them, how He attended them, and how He guarded them, when He said to Moses, “Let them make for Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). It was if He were leaving the heavenly hosts (cf. Psalms 80:15 et al.) to dwell among Israel below, as was said, “I shall bring out My hosts, My people, the Children of Israel, from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:4)! He made this apparent when He charged Moses: “Let the hosts of the Children of Israel encamp, each man by his division, each man by his banner” (Numbers 1:52)!
Numbers Rabbah 2:8
Tanchuma Numbers 12
“The Eternal speaks to Moses and to Aaron, saying:
Each man of the Children of Israel
shall take his position
next to his standard
under the insignia of their ancestral house,
facing and encircling the Tent of Meeting.”
The Eternal could have communicated adequately by saying only, “Each man shall take his position next to his standard under the insignia.” Therefore we ask: What is the Talmud (Oral Torah) of the additional words, “of their ancestral house?”
This is what the speaker meant when he said:
“I would offer my view of the One who is far off;
I would provide justification for the One who made me.”
When Jacob our Father departed from the world, he said to his sons, “Deal with me in kindness and in truth (chesed ve’emet), bury me not in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers and bury me in their burying place” (Genesis 47:29-30). He offered suitable blessings to each of his sons, admonishing them not to allow any outsider to touch his bier, including not only the Egyptians but also their children because some of them married daughters of Canaan. So we are told, “His sons did for him as he commanded them; his sons carried him to the land of Canaan…” (Genesis 50:12-13), not his grandsons!
How exactly did he command them? He assigned Judah, Issaschar and Zebulun, to carry his bier on the east side (cf. Numbers 2:3-9). He assigned Reuben, Simeon and Gad, on the south side (cf. Numbers 2:10-16). Dan, Asher and Naphtali would carry him from the north side (cf. Numbers 2:25-31). And Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh would carry him from the west side (cf. Numbers 2:18-24). Joseph was not assigned the labor of carrying him because Joseph, being king, was entitled to honor. Levi was not assigned to carry (cf. Numbers 2:17,33) because he would, in the future, carry the Ark (Aron), and whoever carries the Ark of the Eternal Living One must not carry a Coffin (Aron) of the dead. Further He promised them: If you carry my bier just has I have commanded you, then, as your fitting reward, the Holy One, blessed be He, will arrange you in the same pattern by your standards (cf. Numbers 2:1-2)!
But when the Eternal told Moses to arrange the Children of Israel by their standards, Moses objected because he could anticipate that there would be disagreement on the part of the tribes regarding their preferred positions. For instance, he anticipated that the tribe of Judah would not want to be on the east side and instead would prefer the south side—with similar objections from the other tribes. “You should not worry about that,” said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses, “because the tribes do not need you in order to know their proper position; rather, it is the testament of their father (Jacob) in their hand to encamp in accordance with their standards!” So is it written: “Each man of the Children of Israel shall take his position next to his standard…” (Numbers 2:2a). “I have not changed anything since he arranged them: Just as they surrounded his bier, so will they surround the Tabernacle!”
Thus we interpret what the speaker said:
“I would offer my view of the one who is far off;…”—
I endorse the testament of their ancestor Jacob (“one who is far off”);
“…I would grant justification by the One who made me”—
the Holy One, blessed be He (“the One who made me”)
provides justification for Israel
to encamp by the standards of their ancestral houses
and thereby avoid discord of competing demands!
In this arrangement the situation of Judah, Issaschar and Zebulun, in the outside circle of the east side was most advantageous. For the Levites were encamped close in to the Tabernacle on the east: “Those camping before the Tabernacle in the front, before the Tent of Meeting on the east, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, keepers of the observance of the Sanctuary, for the charge of the Children of Israel…all of the registered Levites…” (Numbers 3:38-39a), then bordering them were the tribes of Judah, Issaschar and Zebulun. From such happy continguity it was said: Fortunate is the righteous, and fortunate are his neighbors! Those three tribes which were adjacent to Moses and Aaron became great in Torah.
MISHNAH AVOT 2:9
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his students: What is the way that a person should choose? Two of them gave similar answers: Rabbi Joshua said that he should choose a good friend, and Rabbi Yosi said a good neighbor.
Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartinoro: A good friend interacts with him some of the time, whereas a good neighbor is near him night and day.
Tiphereth Yisrael: Good neighbors do favors for each other routinely, even at a sacrifice to themselves. As a result, the reciprocal relationship trains them in chasidut (lovingkindness).
MISHNAH AVOT 6:9
Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma related: Once when I was taking a walk, a man approached me and greeted me, and I returned his greeting. He said to me: Rabbi, where do you live? I answered him: I live in a great city of sages and scholars. He said to me: Rabbi, would you consider moving to our city? Then I would give you a million gold dinars and jewels and rare gems! I answered him: My son, if you were to give me all of the silver and gold and jewels and rare gems in the world, I would still live only in a place of Torah. Because at the time of a man’s passing, neither silver nor gold nor jewels nor rare gems accompany him, only Torah and Mitzvah, as was said:
“Guard, O my son, the Mitzvah of your father,
and do not neglect the Torah of your mother…
When you walk, it shall guide you;
when you lie down, it shall protect you;
and when you awake, it shall talk with you.”
When you walk, it shall guide you—in this world;
when you lie down, it shall protect you—in the grave;
and when you awake, it shall talk with you—in the world to come.
And such is written in the Book of Psalms by David, King of Israel:
“Better to me is the Torah of Your mouth
than a thousand of gold and silver.” (Psalms 119:72)
And thus says the Prophet:
“The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine—
says the Eternal of Hosts.” (Haggai 2:8)
Numbers Rabbah 5:1-2
Devotion and Impoverishment of Kehath
“Do not cut off the tribe
of the families of Kehath
from amid the Levites.”
That is an example of what is written:
“Do not rob the poor
because he is poor!”
Then this raises at least two questions:
(1) What does one verse have to do with the other?
(2) If he is poor, what is there to rob from him?
“Do not rob the poor…” speaks of the sons of Kehath. Why does he call them “poor?” Because they are of the tribe of Levi, which took no portion in the Land.
But then why Kehath specifically out of all the tribe of Levi? (The other sons of Levi were Gershon and Merari, cf. Numbers 3:17.) They, out of all the tribe of Levi, had the awesome responsibility of carrying the Ark containing the stone Tablets. Accordingly, every one of them put so much attention into fulfilling that obligation—and so competed with each other—that they were always in danger of neglecting their responsibility for carrying the other sacred objects, such as the Table and the Menorah, etc. For that reason the Holy One blessed be He, charged Aaron and his sons to “come and assign each of them his duty of porterage” (Numbers 4:19), preventing competition and confusion and protecting them from punishment by the Divine Presence.
So, although all of Levites were “poor,” the children of Kehath were especially poor because they were almost consumed in anxiety and distraction over their duty to carry the Ark. “The Eternal cautions Moses and Aaron to protect the sons of Kehath…” (cf. Numbers 4:18ff.). Until Moses prevailed upon Aaron to carry out that divine command, the sons of Kehath could think of nothing but carrying the Ark! This is a type of impoverishment.
“Do not rob the poor because he is poor?” Our Rabbis anticipated the question: If he is poor, what is there to rob from him? The verse from Proverbs, “Do not rob the poor,” speaks of depriving the poor of gifts which are commanded in the Torah “because he is poor”: gleanings of the harvest, forgotten sheaves, corners of the field, and the poor person’s tithe! Regarding them, the Holy One, blessed be He, warns that one ought not to withhold from the poor gifts that are meant to be given to them; that would be tantamount to “robbing the poor because he is poor!”
“Because he is poor” also carries the meaning of: “It is enough that he is already poor!” Is it not enough for the rich that he enjoys wealth while the poor suffers? Surely he should not also steal from him those gifts which the Holy One, blessed be He, has given to him:
“Do not rob the poor,
because he is poor!”
Talmud Pesachim 3a
Avoid Indecent Language
“It is the New Moon,
and the king is sitting at the table for the meal…
David’s place at the table is unoccupied,
but Saul says nothing on that day,
assuming that David experienced
an emission of semen which would render him impure,
and that in fact he is not pure.”
(I Samuel 20:24-26)
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught: Let no one ever utter an indecent word, for Scripture adds 8 (Hebrew) letters more than would be necessary, in order to circumvent an objectionable word, where Noah, his family, and the animals enter the Ark, “Some of the clean animals and some of the animals which are not clean [13 Hebrew letters]” (Genesis 7:8), instead of “unclean [5 Hebrew letters] animals.”
Rav Papa taught: Scripture adds 9 (Hebrew) letters more than would be necessary, in order to circumvent an objectionable word, where men are encamped for battle, “If there should be with you a man who is not pure [12 Hebrew letters] by reason of a nocturnal emission” (Deuteronomy 23:11), instead of “contaminated [3 letters] man.” Rabina came up with an addition of 10 (Hebrew) letters there because he counted the Hebrew vowel-letter vav in the word tahor (pure).
Rav Acha bar Ya’akov taught: Scripture adds 16 (Hebrew) letters more than would be necessary, in order to circumvent an objectionable word, where Saul assumes “that David experienced an emission of semen which would render him impure, and that in fact he is not pure [22 letters]” (I Samuel 20:24-26), instead of “that David experienced an emission of semen; he is contaminated [6 letters].”
Talmud Arachin 16b
How far must we go in reproving another?
When King Saul observes that David is absent from the King’s table
for both the New Moon and the day after it,
he asks his son Jonathan to explain David’s absence.
Jonathan answers that David asked his permission
to be away at a sacrificial event of his family in Bethlehem.
“Saul becomes angry at Jonathan…” (I Samuel 20:30)
“As long as that son of Jesse is alive…
you and your kingship will not be established,
so bring him to me, as he is sentenced to death!” (Ibid. 31)
“Jonathan answers Saul his father,
‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’” (Ibid. 32)
“Then Saul casts his spear at him to strike him…” (Ibid. 33)
“Hate not your brother in your heart;
instead you must surely reprove him
and not bear sin because of him.”
Jonathan objected to Saul’s unfounded hostility towards his friend David and thus observed the Torah’s admonition by standing up to his father the King and reproving him: “’Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’” (I Samuel 20:32) Three great Sages of the Talmud—Rav, Samuel, and Rabbi Yochanan—held different views on how far one must go in reproving someone. There was already a similar disagreement on this subject among earlier Teachers, based upon their interpretation of this incident between Jonathan, the reprover, and Saul, the king:
Ben Azzai set the requirement to the point where the person being reproved becomes angry at the reprover, as in this case, when “Saul becomes angry at Jonathan…” (I Samuel 20:30).
Rabbi Joshua set the requirement further, to the point where the person being reproved utters a curse on the reprover, as in this case, when Saul says to Jonathan, “As long as that son of Jesse is alive…you and your kingship will not be established…” (Ibid. 31).
Rabbi Eliezer set the highest requirement for reproof, to the point where the person being reproved actually acts to strike the reprover, as in this case, when “Saul casts his spear at him to strike him…” (Ibid. 33).
So, as Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak points out, all three of the differing opinions are based upon the same incident and set of verses! So, for example, it could be asked of the one who sets the requirement at mere anger, what do you say about the verses that seem to support striking or curse? The answer: We cannot extrapolate general guidance from that incident for anything more than anger because there Jonathan would have given his life for David because of his overwhelming affection for him. Whereas the question of how far one must go in reproving someone must apply to the general public.