Monday, May 10, 2010


The first portion of the fourth book of the Torah begins with a census.  Every tribe except the tribe of Levi is counted - men only, from age 20 and up - apparently to find out how many potential soldiers were available to fight against enemies.
Later on in the parasha the men in the tribe of Levi are counted - not as potential soldiers, but for serving God.
  1. This year we are participating in a census in the United States.  Do your students know about this?  Who is being counted?
  2. What is the purpose of our census?  Compare and contrast to the purpose of the census in B'Midbar.
  3. What is your reaction to the fact that only men were counted in the B'Midbar census?
We learned a while ago that since God saved all the first-born of the Jews in Egypt, from then on all first-born are supposed to be dedicated to working directly for God.  Now we hear that the Levites will replace the first-born sons, but there's a problem:  there are more first-born sons than there are Levites.
  1. What solutions can you think of?
  2. What solution is in the Torah?
  3. How is this related to the ceremony we know as Pidyon HaBen?
  4. When you read the Torah with today's eyes and minds it is often troubling.  Only men count?  Fathers are important but not mothers?  Here is a commentary from The Torah:  A Women's Commentary that helps us understand from a more contemporary perspective what the portion is about.
There is a very precise description of the way in which the tribes set camp in the desert.  You can see a picture here as well as an interesting commentary on why each tribe was in a particular place.

You might also enjoy reading this blogpost which questions the numbers of people in the Israelite camp in the desert.  One explanation in Torah, A Modern Commentary, by Gunther Plaut, suggests that the Hebrew word 'elef' which we understand to mean 'thousand' may have had a different meaning when used in the Torah.