Questioning faith in the parsha
KOSHI: What does the desert census teach us about the future of the House of Israel?’
V.2 Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head.
RASHBAM… “Kol Adat B’nai Yisrael…” The entire congregation was numbered for they had to enter Eretz Yisrael and everyone eligible, from 20 years on up, need be ready to be part of the battle…
MILGROM… “s’u et rosh”—for the purpose of military conscription. Such censuses were frequent during the monarchy [II Sam 24:1-9] Head count of the troops was always taken before a military campaign.
RASHI… “l’gul’gilotam—according to their heads…” By means of counting shekalim, a half-shekel per head…The silver here used to purchase the olah, thus making atonement…
AKEDAT YITSCHAK…”by number of their names”…They were not like animals or material objects, but each one had an importance of his own…This is the significance of mentioning each one by name and by tribe; for they were each individual in status.
V. 3 From the age of 20 and up, every one who goes out into the army of Israel, you & Aaron shall record them by their legions.
MILGROM… “From 20 on up…” This was the age of military conscription in Israel. So the census taken by King Amaziah in the 8th century began at 20 as well [II Chron 25:5] The unusual nature of this census was probably caused by the fact that it was taken for achieving the overriding national goal, the conquest of the promised land. In critical wars for Israel’s existence there was neither exemption nor retirement from military duty.
HIRSCH… “Mi-ben esrim shanah—from the 20th year and up…” Torah’s concern for the family unit suggests an answer to another question: why not count from 13, the age of ritual maturity? For Torah hoped to reserve those initial 7 years for implanting moral and spiritual family values before asking him to assume the duties of the nation. It would be harmful to give a young man too great a burden in the affairs of the nation before he has completed his apprenticeship in life.
LUZATTO… “kol yotseh Tsavah Yisrael”—That is, as military men. The march towards Canaan was to be that of a disciplined nation and not a rabble of runaway slaves.
MUNK…All those 20 years and older are called to serve God; they will have the mission of being not alone His messengers but His soldiers….There is a military aspect to the early chapters of the Book of Numbers: units are formed—Tsivot; leaders, or commanders are appointed—Alufai Yisrael; marching orders are given…The Holy One did not turn the people into a military organization, but did endow them with the worthwhile qualities to be a cohesive unit…
V.18 So they convoked the entire congregation on the first day of the second month, establishing their lineage according to their families
RASHI….They each brought documents attesting to their tribe and witnesses to birth status…
RAV ABRAHAM ISAAC KOOK…Each nation survives on the basis of the strength of two entities. A nation must have a national infrastructure, an economic and political system…to be able to keep the peace and defend itself…But this alone is not enough. Many nations, in the course of history, have possessed strong armies and political systems, yet have somehow disappeared….For a nation rises and falls on the strength of its spirit… Am Yisrael is only complete when the physical and the spiritual are fused.
R’PINCHAS PELI…The first act Moses is ordered to undertake in the desert is a census “of all males 20 and up who can bear arms.” Why an army? Weren’t they worthy of more miracles?… Wasn’t He going to help them reach their destination?….Of course…But the first lesson they must learn, as they are preparing to go to their own land, is that one is not allowed to rely on miracles alone…This army, formed in the desert teaches us about its ultimate aim… “Take the sum of all the congregation of Israel by their families, by their father’s house…” The Israeli soldier is never to become a mere nameless number…He must never become an anonymous G.I., but always remain part of his father’s house.