This week’s Torah portion discusses the census (counting of the Jewish people in the Sinai Desert, the job & living location of the Levites, the placement of the tribes around the temple (mishkan), jobs of the Levites and the census of first borns.

 

This week’s Torah portion discusses the census (counting of the Jewish people in the Sinai Desert, the job & living location of the Levites, the placement of the tribes around the temple (mishkan), jobs of the Levites and tally of the first male born in each family.

How did Moses (Moshe) conduct the census?

Moses and Aaron took a tally of every male 20 years old that was fit for service. One commentary specified that each man was counted via a half-shekel (a coin value) while another explains that the census was made up by name lists (each man was listed separately).

Did Moses (Moshe) receive any assistance?

Yes, from Aaron his brother and a man from each of the tribes. G-d assigned Moshe the names of the men (princes) from each tribe who would assist in this count.

Who was counted?

All men over 20 fit for service according to their paternal line.

The Levites were counted according to their paternal lines. They counted every male over one month old.

How did they camp?

Each tribe had a specified flag and specified camping location surrounding the tabernacle (temple).

The Levites were also given specific camping locations surrounding the tabernacle (temple).

How were the jobs allocated to the Levites in the temple?

The three sons of Levi were Gershon, Kehoth and Merari.

Gershon: shall be the one in charge along with his descendants over the tent, its roof, drapes at the Communion Tent entrance, enclosure’s hangings, drape at the entrance of the enclosure surrounding the tabernacle and alter and ropes as well as al the work involving any of the above items.

Kehoth were in charge over these sacred articles: Ark, table, menorah, two alters, sacred utensils for all these, partition drape and the work involving these items.

* specified in depth in the portion

* The son of Aaron the priest (Eleazar) will be in charge of safeguarding the trust of the sacred articles (sanctuary).

Merari’s appointed task along with their descendants: care for the beams, crossbars, pillars and bases of the Tabernacle, all its utensils, and the associated work as well as the pillars, bases, stakes and ropes of the surrounding enclosure.

In the east in front of the tabernacle shall be Moses and Aaron and his sons.

What was the significance of the first born?
G-d told Moses that each of the first born males should be counted because in Egypt all first born males were killed. Every first born male became (the possession of G-d) mine on the day (G-d) killed all the first born males in Egypt. (the last plague before leaving Egypt the story of Passover) I (G-d) sanctified to Myself every first – born in Israel, man and beast alike and they shall remain mine. In exchange for each first born male a Levite will take his place.

Counting of each first born
Each family gave five silver shekels (coin value) in exchange for their first born male. During the time of this counting, their were 22,273 first born males and only 22,000 Levites. The extra 273 five shekel pieces were given to Aaron and his sons as redemption for the first born males in excess of the Levites. Today we still redeem our first born. A ceremony is made for each first born male.