Weekly Scripture Reading


This week's Parashah begins the fourth book of Moshe and has the same title as the book itself. The title of the book, in Hebrew, comes from the fourth word from its opening phrase, "Vaidaber YHVH el-Moshe bamidbar" (And Yehovah spoke to Moshe in the wilderness). Bamidbar, the wilderness, designates the place of the varied happenings in the book. The current English title, “Numbers,” is derived from the Septuagint - the Greek translation done before the Common Era - and was named as such based on the numerous censuses of the Israelites.

The greater portion of the Book is devoted to the trials of the Israelites in their wanderings after the exodus untill, thirty-eight years later, they are about to enter the Holy Land. But Bamidbar is not just a chronicle of the outstanding events during the journey in the wilderness, it also interprets these events in light of God's ethics and shows His faithfulness in every distress and danger as well as the severity of the Divine judgments against rebellion and apostasy. In addition, it records the teachings and ordinances relating to the Sanctuary, the camp, the purification of life, and such civil and political ordinances as would enable the Israelites to fulfill the task God assigned to them among the nations.

The wilderness journey begins by taking a first of many censuses: “And the Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out from the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of names, every male by their polls. From twenty years old and upward, all who are able to go forth to war in Israel; you and Aaron shall count them by their armies. And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one chief of the house of his fathers.’” Bamidbar 1:1-4.

There are two interesting and beautiful facts about this census.

First, the counting is to be done “by the house of their fathers,” therefore, it tells us that the Biblical way of reckoning one's genealogy, or Jewishness, is through the line of the father. The rabbinical reasoning though, is that the tribal affiliation is through the father but the nationality (Jewishness) is matrilineal. But, if we look at King David's genealogy, the matrimonial lineage goes back to his great grandmother Ruth, which was a Moabite, a Gentile, even though it is said that she "converted" to Judaism, and his patrimonial lineage through Judah, the Jewsih line. Moreover, all prophecies about David's descendants are not given though his matrimonial lineage but through his father's lineage. God chose this Jewish lineage to show the accuracy of His prophecies and for us to understand that based on these prophecies, at the right time, He sent the Redeemer through the line of David, through the line of Judah, namely, Yeshua of Natzeret, to make atonement for us and cover our sins with His shed blood and that is a fact no matter how much humanity tries to undermine it by its unbelief.

The enfaces given to the line of the fathers is vital in our understanding of God's prophecies, because this patrilineal record was lost with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Because these records were lost, after 70 CE no one could have proven his lineage through King David, therefore, Messiah had to have come before the destruction of the Temple, because only then the prophecy about Messiah's birth and His claim could have been verified and proven true. Therefore, there can be no other Messiah and no other message of salvation apart from Yeshua's message from 2000 years ago. God chose the Jewish nation to be the bearer of the Good News and with God there are no coincidences. There is no coincidence in choosing the line of the fathers to tell the Jews exactly who the Messiah would be, and there is no coincidence in the destruction of the Temple which points out that the messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Messiah’s coming before its destruction as prophesied by Daniel in chapter 9. Indeed He came in the person of Yeshua of Natzeret, born in Bet Lechem, proven with signs and wanders to be the one sent by God. The irony here is that the prophecy of a redeemer through the son of Yishai of Bet Lechem, through David, through the line of Judah, it is well understood but not believed by the rabbinate even though it is incorporated into the Friday night Shabbat service in the prayer "Lecha Dodi."

Second fact is that the final number of the men above twenty years of age from all tribes - except the tribe of Levi - was 603,550, which was the exact number of men from all tribes including Levi from a census taken one year earlier in Exodus 38:26. This earlier census was done before the construction of the Tabernacle and was for the purpose of raising funds for its construction. This earlier census was for everyone, regardless of their ability, from every tribe, to contribute half a shekel for the construction of the Holy Mishkan. This contribution was a symbol for an atonement for their souls. The second census was done after the Mishkan was finished and God consecrated the tribe of Levi to serve in it. By ending up with the exact same number, even after God took out 22,000 Levites to serve Him, signifies that providing for the spiritual matters is an issue of the heart. God provides the means for everyone to participate in the spiritual uplifting of the community, but it is up to us to contribute. In the case of Israelites He provided 22,000 teenagers to mature to be twenty years old and, to show them that this was not a coincidence, God asked them later to count the firstborn males (Numbers 3:43) to replace the Levites as a redemption, and their number was 22,273. They were 273 more teenagers than the number of Levites. The lesson here is that God provides and He provides abundantly, but it is up to us to make it happen. God gave Israelis no excuse not to contribute – or contribute less – for the spiritual matters and He gives us no excuse for not contributing to the spiritual growth of our communities, which in the end is for our benefit.

To show the centrality of the Mishkan in their lives, God places the tribe of Levi around it and tells the other tribes to encamp surrounding them, at a distance, on all four sides, by arranging the twelve tribes into four formations of three tribes each — known as banners — with each “banner” led by a designated tribe. On the east the leader would be the tribe of Judah, on the south the tribe of Reuben, on the west the tribe of Ephraim, and on the north the tribe of Dan. Each tribal flag was the same color as its stone on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate. According to the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:6) the tribal flags were as follows:

— Judah's was sky-blue with a lion.
— Levi's was white, black, and red with an Urim v'Tumim.
— Simeon's was green, with an embroidered representation of the city of Shechem. Several illustrators added a sword to Simeon’s symbol, according to the verse “their weaponry is a stolen craft" Bereshit 49:5.
— Reuben's was red and its insignia was duda'im, a representation of the flowers he brought his mother.
— Asher's was the color of flaming olive oil, with an olive tree.
— Gad's was gray, with a battalion of soldiers.
— Naftali's was pale red, with a doe.
— Dan's was sapphire, with a snake.
— Benjamin's was a mixture of all the other colors, with a wolf.
— Joseph's both flags were jet black: Ephraim's had an ox and Manasseh's a re'em.
— Zebulun's was white, with a ship.
— Issachar's was blue-black, with a sun and moon, since Issachar was famous for its many scholars who calculated the orbits of the heavenly bodies to fix the calendar.

It must have been a beautiful site to see all these tribes with their flags surrounding the Tabernacle, and this Tabernacle, a symbol of God in their midst. May we all take to heart this imagery, have God as the center of our lives and contribute abundantly to the spiritual grouth of our communities.