In this week’s Parsha one of the first events that take place is the counting of Bnei Yisrael. The Torah then mentions that the people must be counted indirectly. This leads to two questions: (1) how exactly did Moshe and Aharon count Bnei Yisrael?; and (2) why is the Sefer called “Numbers” if the nation is only counted twice throughout the entire Sefer?
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines Numbers as, “a large quantity or amount, often in contrast to a smaller one; numerical preponderance.” One approach to understanding the significance of the count is to recognize the enormity of men 20 years and older shortly after leaving Mizrayim. Because they could not physically count each person, Hashem told them to use a half-shekel to represent each man. Approximately 603,550 men were gathered, trained, and taught to fight in preparation for what they would eventually encounter. Moshe and Aharon needed to know this number so that they could proportionately divide up the land for each tribe to settle in. Similarly, the Oznayim LaTorah explains that the reason that the count occurred in the beginning of the Sefer was to indicate how many people left Mizrayim, and to begin to build up a nation of people with their own land.
Rashi explains that this was Hashem’s way of publically declaring His love for Bnei Yisrael. Hashem wanted to know how many people died because of the sins they committed in Mizrayim and with the Golden Calf. Through Moshe and Aharon, Hashem hoped that the nation would realize that they could not rely solely on miracles. Now was their time to prepare to follow Hashem’s instructions, and have faith that He will help them survive through anything. Like the Shaloh says, it was not for Moshe and Aharon’s benefit to count Bnei Yisrael; rather, a reminder to the nation that no one member of Klal Yisrael stands alone. Together each individual person is dependent on the other. Only once they begin to act as a united people, can they start moving towards entering Eretz Yisrael.
The second count at the end of Bamidbar brings the first count to a complete circle. Pshat implies that the overall purpose for these two counts was to reveal the ultimate difference between the people from beginning to end. We are told that the generation in Parshat Pinchas was not the same generation that was counted right after leaving Mizrayim. This generation, the children and grandchildren of former slaves, were a new people with Torah values ready to enter Eretz Yisrael.
Student Studying in Midreshet Moriah