The Book of Bamidbar — "In the desert" — begins with G-d commanding Moshe to take a census of all men over age twenty — old enough for service. The count reveals just over 600,000. The levi'im are counted separately later because their service will be unique. They will be responsible for transporting the Mishkan and its furnishings and assembling them when the nation encamps. The 12 Tribes of Israel, each with its banner, are arranged around the Mishkan in four sections: east, south, west and north. Since Levi is singled out, the tribe of Yosef is split into two tribes, Efraim and Menashe, so there will be four groups of three. When the nation travels, they march in a formation similar to the way they camp. A formal transfer is made between the first-born and the levi'im, whereby the levi'im take over the role the first-born would have had serving in the Mishkan if not for the sin of the golden calf. The transfer is made using all the 22,000 surveyed levi'im from one month old and up. Only levi'im between 30 and 50 will work in the Mishkan. The remaining first-born sons are redeemed with silver, similar to the way we redeem our first-born today. The sons of Levi are divided into three main families, Gershon, Kehat and Merari (besides the kohanim — the special division from Kehat's family). The family of Kehat carried the menorah, the table, the altar and the holy ark. Because of their utmost sanctity, the ark and the altar are covered only by Aharon and his sons, before the levi'im prepare them for travel.
A Piano Lesson
“…every man at his camp and every man at his banner…” (1:52)
As a small boy, I remember the first time I saw a concert pianist in action. I was fascinated how his hands could caress the most sublime sounds from a few dozen ivory sticks. Being a persuasive sort, I managed to talk my parents into buying a piano so that I could perform the same trick. When the piano arrived, I positioned myself carefully on the piano stool. (Had I been wearing tails, I would, no doubt, have given them a nonchalant flick as I seated myself.) I opened the lid, rubbed my hands to warm them, and held them poised over the center of the keyboard just like I had seen the maestro do.
My hands plunged into the unfortunate keys with a loud and highly unmusical ‘splang’. This was followed by several more ‘splangs’, a few ‘splongs’ rounded off with a ‘grong-grang-grong’ and a long ‘frannnnggggggggg’ down to the nether depths of the keyboard.
This was not the magic that I had hoped for. My mother arranged for me to have lessons.
“Now,” said Mr. Szfortzo, my new piano teacher, “…the first thing we need to learn is order…”
“But I want to be a child prodigy,” I protested.
Realizing the sort of a pupil with whom he had been blessed, Mr. Szfortzo rolled his eyes heavenward. After a few seconds of contemplation, he began to speak.
“To achieve anything, a person must have order. Music is all about order. One note has to follow the other in the correct order. One movement must follow the next in the correct order. In order to get anywhere in music – sorry no pun intended — (he grinned),you must order your day so that every day you will be able to sit down and practice your scales, the basic order of music. You can’t just pick up your hands and expect them to produce Rachmaninoff!”
Of this last fact, I was already painfully aware.
“Order, Order, Order.”
“…every man at his camp and every man at his banner…"
The whole Torah is based on order. A split-second divides Shabbat from the weekdays. A hairsbreadth between kosher and treif; one drop of water divides a kosher mikveh from one that is unfit; a separation divides the camp of the Kohanim from that of the Levi’im. A Levi must not do the service of a kohen and vice versa, nor may a Levi do the service of his fellow.
With “every man at his camp and every man at his banner,” the Jewish People are able to give a flawless performance of our Sonata of life – the Holy Torah.