Torah Weekly

For the week ending 27 May 2017 / 2 Sivan 5777

Parshat Bamidbar

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Overview

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.

Insights

A Yiddishe Kop

“The sons of Naftali, their offspring according to their families…” (1:42)

In a certain country, being caught gambling was a serious offense.

It so happened that one day a certain priest was playing poker with his friends the rabbi and the imam. Suddenly the door flew open and a policeman rushed in. The policeman rushed over to the priest and said, “Gotcha! You were playing poker!” “No I wasn’t” protested the priest. “Would you swear that you weren’t playing poker?” “Absolutely,” said the priest. “So swear!” And he did.

Next, the inspector turned to the imam: “You were playing poker!” “No I wasn’t” protested the imam. “Would you swear that you weren’t playing poker?” “Absolutely,” said the priest. “So swear!” And he did.

Next the policeman turned to the rabbi, “You were playing poker!” “No I wasn’t” protested the rabbi. “Would you swear that you weren’t playing poker?” “Listen”, said the rabbi, “If this fellow swears that he wasn’t playing poker, and this fellow swears that he wasn’t playing poker, who was I supposed to be playing poker with?”

With this old and not particularly funny joke, we can understand the following anomaly in this week’s Torah portion.

“The sons of Naftali, their offspring according to their families…”

When enumerating all the other tribes, the Torah employs the prefix “For…”. As in: “For the sons of Asher… forty-one thousand, five hundred.” (1:41). Only with the tribe of Naftali does the Torah omit the “For”.

Why?

The present counting of the tribes of Israel was designed to establish the number of each tribe by itself, for, as Rashi points out, the grand total of all the Jewish People was already established that year, and that number was unchanged. Thus, once the other tribes had been counted and only the tribe of Naftali remained, their number was already known by a simple sum of deduction. Therefore, it was not necessary to use the prefix “For”.

That’s what you call a “Yiddishe Kop”.

  • Sources: Panim Yafot in Mayana shel Torah

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