Introduction to the Book of Bamidbar

  • Rav Shimon Klein



            Where do we encounter spirituality in the world? Where do we meet God? This is a fundamental question regarding man's existence, scale of values, cultural foundations, and way of life. The nature of a society is largely determined by the answer it provides to this question.


In this study unit, this question will be placed at the doorstep of three of the books of the Torah – Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim. We will see how each book, in systematic fashion, gives its own unique answer to this question, different from the others. Our presentation is founded on the assumption that each book of the Torah is endowed with its own identifying marks and spiritual and literary characteristics. As in the expression, "The favor of a place is in the estimation of its inhabitants" (Sota 47a), each book serves as a lodging house, projecting of itself on what transpires in it.


We will open this study unit with an examination of two books: Vayikra and Devarim. We will compare one to the other, present the difference between them, and also attempt to understand and define the difference. The insights we develop will serve as an introduction and first step to understanding the book of Bamidbar, which is set in between the other two books.


Where does God Dwell?


Every work has a creator, who is located in a particular place and context when engaged in his creation. The position of the creator is also the position of a spectator, and in great measure it radiates on the nature of his creation. This is true with respect to any person, and it is also true with respect to a prophet. "No two prophets prophesy in the same style," say the Sages. Thus, Chazal attach significance to the question of who the person receiving the prophecy is, what his world is, and what his spiritual position is.[1]


What about God? Does He also prophesy and reveal Himself in different styles? We need not go very far in reading the different books of the Torah in order to see variations in and different aspects of God's revelation, as they are already present in the first two chapters of the book of Bereishit. In the first chapter, God is described as He who creates, speaks, and acts, without connection to any place and without any concrete actions testifying to involvement.[2] In the second chapter, however, He is described as dwelling in the world, located in time and place, and working with reality. He causes the rain to fall, breathes into man's nostrils, plants trees in the garden, and causes them to grow.[3] Following in the footsteps of the second chapter, there are countless places in Scripture where God is depicted as dwelling, as present in time, place, and context.[4]


In light of this, we wish to argue here that God can be identified as standing in a different place in each of the books of the Torah. The place accords with, and in great measure is determined by, the spiritual stage of the nation and the world. Certain values ​​come to life, others are not an issue, and between them a system of concepts and unique language develops for each of the books. Accordingly, a question like, "Where should man seek God?" or "Where can he find meaning?" is likely to elicit different answers, depending on the book of the Torah to which it is directed.


The difference between Vayikra and Devarim


            From beginning to end, the book of Vayikra is comprised of the statements of God.[5] This already finds expression in the book's opening verse: "And the Lord called to Moshe and spoke to him out the Tent of Meeting, saying" (Vayikra 1:1). God calls to Moshe from the Tent of Meeting, and from here until the end of the book, we will hear God's utterances to Moshe from the Tent of Meeting, or from Mount Sinai in the closing sections of the book. It is interesting that God's words are heard "from the Tent of Meeting" (mei-ohel mo'ed),rather than "in the Tent of Meeting" (be-ohel mo'ed). The mem creates an essential affiliation – the place signs on the words that issue from it.[6]


            The book of Vayikra systematically ignores the historical timeline and geographical location. Noting a date creates a context for an event – the occurrence took place at a particular time, on which it depended and from which it stemmed. Such a note in the book of Vayikra would involve denial of the essence of the book – the word of God to the world, whose point of departure is independent of time. In similar fashion, nowhere in the book is mention made of the place where the people encamped.[7] In effect, that which takes place in the book does not depend on time or place.


In contrast, the book of Devarim is comprised entirely of the words of Moshe, with almost no direct speech of God.[8] Someone seeking God in the book cannot find Him directly. All that he can do is turn his ear to the man who was closer to God than anyone else, heard His words, and is now delivering a speech, which contains the words of God as they are reflected in the world of Moshe.


Similar to the invitation contained in the opening call of the book of Vayikra, the opening verses of the book of Devarim invite the reader to familiarize himself with the underlying spiritual assumptions on which the book is founded: "These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the wilderness over against Suf… it is eleven days' journey from Chorev… And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month… after he had slain Sichon… beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moav, Moshe began to declare this Torah, saying" (Devarim 1:1-5). Moshe is about to deliver a speech to all of Israel, and as an introduction, Scripture describes the many contexts in which he is found – the place, the story of the journey that led there, the time, the wars that preceded the speech, and again the place. All these are likely to fashion a speech that is connected to and mindful of the events and occurrences out of which it grew. As opposed to the encounter with the word of God which is high and elevated and independent of time and place, Moshe's speech is projected from the context in which he and the people find themselves. It reprocesses the past and prepares the Torah and the people for their entry into the land of the future.


What are the implications of the gap between these two books of the Torah? There are endless ramifications. "Things which one sees from there" – from the perspective of God in the Tent of Meeting, "one does not see from here" – from the perspective of Moshe, who brings of himself and of his world in the book of Devarim. And "things which one sees from here" – from Moshe's point of view, with the perspective of forty years of leading the people and with the maturity that he has reached, "one does not see from there" – from the lofty point of view which invites man to realms beyond the "here and now." In fact, the themes discussed in the two books are different, the fundamental spiritual assumptions are different, and even a passage that repeats itself is likely to take a new form and bear a new meaning.


Returning to the questions with which this study opened: Where do we encounter spirituality in the world? Where do we meet God? The book of Vayikra invites man to the spirituality that preceded the world, to a Torah and to values that do not change,[9] to the Land of Israel, which is the land of God, not of man,[10] and to a world which is the responsibility of God, and not of man. God in the book of Vayikra is very close to God as He is described in the first chapter of Bereishit, prior to all, creator of all things, who accordingly invites man to the realms of eternity or to the foundations of the world.


            The book of Devarim prepares the people for their encounter with the Land of Israel, for a Torah that is connected and attentive to life, and therefore changes along with it.[11] For the land that is given to them and is meant to be their land,[12] where they will build, create and take responsibility for their actions.[13] Beyond all of these things, God in this book is not "the Creator," but rather "the dweller," who expects that people will build fitting, directed, and precise lives, in return for which He will rest His Shekhina among them. In the book of Vayikra, there is a movement back to the past, to the divine foundations that preceded the world, whereas in the book of Devarim, the movement is forward, into the future, toward human endeavor that will invite God who will choose to rest His Shekhina among them.


            We can now enter through the gates of the book of Bamidbar,which is found in between the two books examined above.


At the gates of the book of Bamidbar


            The opening verses of the book of Bamidbar are sort of an introduction. Before we enter into its alleyways, we are presented at the gate with spiritual principles and a system of concepts, which reach out to the reader and hint to him about what he can expect to find ahead of him.[14]


And the Lord spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out of the land of Egypt. (Bamidbar 1:1)


The book opens with God's words to Moshe. Opening a book with God's words to man is not self-evident; it is found in only two of the books of the Torah, Vayikra and Bamidbar. Both cases involve God's words from a place of holiness, which herald the high position that underlies the entire book.


Alongside the similarity, however, there is also a difference. In the book of Vayikra,Moshe is called from the Tent of Meeting, whereas here two additional contexts are mentioned: The context of place in its broad sense: "in the wilderness of Sinai,"[15] and then afterwards a more focused context: "in the Tent of Meeting,[16] "and also a date: "on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out of the land of Egypt." In each of them, there is an invitation.[17]


"In the wilderness of Sinai" – in the place where the people are now situated. The wilderness lies outside the inhabited world, it is free of friction with the world outside of it, and it invites an inner development between the people and themselves, between the people and their God. The fact that it is mentioned at the beginning of the book points to the crucial influence that it will have on the nature of the events befalling the people.[18]

"In the Tent of Meeting" - speech in the Tent of Meeting is an invitation to the Holy, to a meeting with God that invites a high and lofty perspective. Mentioning the Tent of Meeting after the wilderness sets the place of the people as the foundation, and puts the Tent of Meeting in the second circle, rather than in the first.


"On the first day of the second month, in the second year after they came out of the land of Egypt" – the time relates to the exodus from Egypt and points to a process through which the people passed from when they set off on their journey and until now. The time – the second month and the second year – both point to a second stage, and not the first, thus giving expression to the development and maturing that takes place in this book.


The next verse includes the substance of God's words to Moshe:


Take the sum [se'u et rosh] of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the houses of their fathers, by the number of names, every male by their polls. (v. 2)


"Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel" – the formulation of this command is unique. Laset means to lift up. Et rosh assigns the lifting to the head, the highest among the body's organs. The expression as a whole, se'u et rosh, attaches value and importance to the act of counting.


Four circles are depicted here: "the congregation of the children of Israel" – the collective; "after their families" – each tribe is composed of several families; "the houses of their fathers" - the nuclear family; "by the number of names, every male by their polls" – a reference to the individual. This structure is not simple, and one might have expected the reverse order – to gather the individuals into nuclear families, larger families, and finally the entire collective. The structure suggested here opens with the collective, the picture as a whole, and from it are derived the sub-units – down to the individual. Referring to the individual by the term le-gulgelotam, "according to their heads," is a bit puzzling, and serves as a window onto the deeper story told by the inner structure of the book:[19] a point of departure that sees the people and the collective as the subject, rather than the isolated individual, who does not actually constitute a domain of his own.


From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: you and Aharon shall number them by their hosts. (v. 3)


The minimum age of those counted is twenty years, and this is connected to their standing as people who go out to war in Israel. What is the idea behind counting those who are in charge of their survival and security, and not counting the others?[20] Once again we see the ritual that sets the public arena at the center, and thus it is only those responsible for the preservation of the people in the past and in the present who are counted. The command to count is interesting, as it is formulated with the term pekida (tifkedu). Pekida means counting, but it expresses an inner position. Sometimes it indicates redemption ("I have surely redeemed [pakod pakaditi] you"; Shemot 3:16), and sometimes it denotes a man's relations with his wife ("Shimshon visited [va-yifkod] his wife"; Shofetim 15:1). Here, pekida means esteeming and empowering those who go out to war, thus establishing the framework of the existence of the people.

And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers. (v. 4)


            This verse serves as a heading for the list of people who are to accompany the counting. Now they are called "heads of the house of their fathers," and after their names are spelled out, they are described as follows: "These were the men of mark in the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel" (v. 16) – a series of designations that reinforce the status of those standing at the head of the census.


A Foundational census


            In the coming verses, Scripture continues to describe the census, as well as other events that are initiated in the camp.[21] A suitable title for these events is: organization of the camp. These can be thought of in terms of administrative information, like a census or a population registry that is meant to serve the public in various contexts. But the story here seems to be different.


It should first be prefaced that only a year and a month have passed since the people left Egypt. What place did tribal and familial affiliation play until now? To what extent was the average person conscious of these affiliations? Was he capable of pointing to his relatives or to a family tree going back several generations? The Bible answers these questions with silence. Over the course of the book of Shemot,the Torah relates to the people as a collective; the existence of tribes and families is almost not an issue.[22] The people bring an end to generations of slavery in Egypt, and it stands to reason that many people did not know their familial affiliation, and certainly not their more extended genealogy. "And they declared their pedigrees after their families, by the houses of their fathers, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, by their polls" (Bamidbar 1:8). This declaration of pedigrees involved identifying and establishing the relationships of families, houses of the fathers, and down to the level of the isolated individual.[23] In other words, previously lineage had not been known, and it was certainly not significant. Now it becomes an issue, and its presence from this point on is likely to be most significant.


These chapters deal with the reorganization of the camp. There is a defined place for each tribe and a defined place for the tribe of Levi, families are united, and many tents belonging to one "house of fathers" are pitched one alongside the other. The book of Shemot describes the journeys and encampments of the people but in practice, we are dealing with a jumble of people who move and encamp one alongside the other, without any order, without structure, without living tissues connecting between them. Now, a new social and spiritual structure is launched, and it creates a certain dynamic, impacting in a most decisive manner on the character and values of society. From now on, critical importance will be attached to the value of the community, the family, the house of fathers, and also to the Shekhina, which from now on will be stationed in the heart of the camp.


We asked above: Where is God found in each of the books of the Torah?Now we can point to the unique answer that the book of Bamidbar gives to this question. Throughout the book, God emphasizes the camp of Israel. It receives new height and meaning for its tribes and its families. Parallel to this, He proclaims: "I am coming into the camp." From now on, one who seeks God will find him there. As stated, this location of God establishes a new basis for what is about to happen in this book.


This identification, rather than providing an answer to our question, invites inquiry and study. Now we will have to examine the various parashiyot and try to identify the unique appearance that God has in this book, to examine the idea of "people," as it is presented in the first chapters of the book, in the arrangement of the camp and in the spiritual logic invested in it. In addition, we must enter the gates of the other chapters and understand what the people experience. Who is their God? What is the nature of what is taking place between them?


In the following lines, we will present an overview of the structure of the book, in the course of which we will try to point to its central motif – the people and its God.


The three parts of the book of Numbers


Part one: The first ten chapters (1-10) describe the camp.[24] The description of the camp of Israel includes: the names of the princes, the count of the people, the arrangement of the tribes "every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard," and other things. It is a utopian drawing of the fitting location for each of the various parts of the nation and of the interaction between them. In the center of the camp stands the Mishkan, a sign of the location of He who rests in this book in the depth of the lives of Israel. This part concludes wit the words: "And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moshe said, ‘Rise up, Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you’" (10:35).Scripture describes the departure by pointing to the ark, and with Moshe's words "Rise up, O Lord." In the heart of the camp stands the ark, and the movement of the Shekhina is the movement of the camp.[25]


Part two: Nine chapters (11-19),[26] their point of departure being Israel's setting out on their journey. There is a transition from occupation with the arrangement of the camp, which is merely a mental process in anticipation of the move, to the world of action. When the movement actually begins, a crisis develops. The people complain. Moshe too complains about the heavy burden. The utopia shatters. A high infrastructure had been set up that was not based on reality. The collective seizes its place. Great pictures are based on an idea, rather than on the natural world of human beings. This part does not provide an answer to the complexity of life, to the many forces and dimensions that stir up when setting out on the road, when encountering life.


Another aspect of the crises is connected to the place of the individual in this book. The building does not rest upon him, and in this sense he serves as a bottom line, and not a starting point. Accordingly, "at the commandment of the Lord they remained encamped, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed" (9:23). It is not the people, but rather God, who chooses their path, a sign of conduct that is not based on the movements of natural life. Note should also be taken of God's great involvement in the solution of the crises. Moshe repeatedly falls on his face, expecting God's active involvement. The crises described in this section of the book end badly, and attest to a response that is beyond the spiritual boundaries that underlie the book.


Part three: Chapter 20 to the end of the book.[27]This part takes place in the fortieth year, following the deaths of those who died in the wilderness.[28] The sin of Moshe and Aharon is an expression of the gap that exists between the leadership and the generation that is about to enter the Land of Israel. Moshe is a hundred and twenty years old; the oldest of the younger generation is sixty (as during the second year, at the time of the sin involving the spies, the decree was issued that all those older than twenty would die in the wilderness). As opposed to the crises in the first part of the book, which are resolved by God and which are accompanied by harsh judgment, now God's involves Himself in the first crisis at Mei Meriva, but slowly the solutions make use of the tools of reality, with God being less involved. Beyond that, we are dealing with the generation that is about to enter the Land of Israel, whose encounter with the world makes greater contact with life itself. The presence of Moshe and Aharon creates a kind of accompaniment. The Torah describes the building of the people in different senses – as preparation for their entry into the Land of Israel, in the context of the relationship between them and the nations of the eastern bank of the Jordan, and, in great measure, in the interaction between the generations.


The book in the middle


            What is the process taking place between the three books of the Torah? Let us go back to the relationship between the book of Vayikra and the book of Devarim. Understanding that relationship will serve as an introduction to the book of Bamidbar.


In the book of Vayikra,the Land of Israel is God's land; in the book of Devarim,it is the people of Israel's land. How can we reconcile these two contradictory statements?


To answer this question, let us consider a living, three-dimensional example. Let us imagine a similar question involving parents and children. The child has a room in his parents' home; the room is defined as the child's, and that is the way he relates to it. He does not allow others to enter the room without his permission, and he arranges it as he pleases.


One day, the child leaves his room with a bed on his back. His parents ask him what he is doing. He answers that it will soon be Lag B'Omer, and that he has decided to dedicate his bed in honor of the day. In his defense, he argues that the bed is his, just as the room is his, as his parents have told him over and over again. In response, his parents claim that the room is theirs and the bed is theirs from time immemorial.


The key to understanding is found in the following definition. Obviously, the house belongs to the parents. They bought it and they enjoy legal possession of it. At the same time, they chose to clear a certain room for their son, to entrust him with the authority and responsibility for its day-to-day functioning. This creates a space that allows him independent living, as well as privacy that allows him to grow and develop.[29]


Accordingly, the question of whether the room is that of the parents or of the son depends on a more fundamental question: On what field is the discussion taking place? If the discussion is purely legal, then the room belongs to the parents. However in the behavioral sense, in the context of real life, they removed themselves from the room, and in that context, the room belongs to the son for all purposes.


Back to the issue at hand: As in the analogy, the gap between the book of Vayikra and the book of Devarim tells us the story of the partnership between God and His people. There is an expanse that is His, and that is described in the book of Vayikra. In that expanse lies the absolute truth as it is seen from a divine and eternal perspective. This truth cannot exist alone, just as the law that establishes the room as belonging to the parents cannot exist alone. Alongside this there is another expanse, and it is to this that the book of Devarim relates, the expanse of the son's existence. The people enter their land, conquer it, build it, and fashion their lives in it. In this expanse there are different laws. "Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours" (Devarim 11:24)" is a fundamental principle that allows sovereignty, control, and responsibility in the area. In this space, God makes room for Israel and His basic presence is not in the camp. In terms of the analogy to the father and son, the book of Devarim at its peak depicts a son who has already grown up, separated from his parents, taken a wife, and built himself a house. His parents at this stage are found in a "higher" place. They are deeply etched in his heart, they are a source of inspiration, but at the same time, they do not conduct his life. He is granted a great deal of discretion, much space for creativity that will give expression to what he had learned and absorbed in his parents' house. In this book, God rarely speaks directly, and the depth of the story lies in this fact. The man Moshe speaks, and his words reflect the word of God as it can be perceived by humans. It is not by chance the God is described as dwelling in heaven,[30] and it is also not by chance the He is described again and again as being in the position of choosing whether or not to rest his Shekhina on the people.[31]


What is the place of the Book of Bamidbar?


What is the process that allows this transition from a position of absolute truth where God is sovereign to the expanse of life where the people grow up, choose, and assume responsibility? Once again, let us use the analogy of the father and the son. Before the son can be asked to answer the question of what he wants or what he chooses, he must first undergo a process of empowerment. He must not only understand what the right thing to do is, but rather – Who are you? Who are your family? In what consciousness do you live? What are your special values? What is the vision of your people?


The road to spiritual maturity passes through the book of Bamidbar. In this book, the head of the people is lifted upwards; it sees by itself as one over whom God's story in the world passes. During this stage of life – that of "at the commandment of the Lord they remained encamped, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed" – no one knows what will happen the next morning. They may remain in the same place and they may set forth. The same is true each and every morning. There is no room for planning, there is no maturity, and there is also no responsibility. It is a kind of boot camp that brings a soldier together with the idea of "army," with its value and with the excellence that it demands. A soldier recognizes his skills and his capabilities, and alongside them he develops discipline and dedication as needed.


The place is Bamidbar, "in the wilderness," the place where God secludes Himself with His people, the place where the people seclude themselves with themselves, the place where proximity to God and great crises intermingle.


(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] Sanhedrin 89a.

[2] The lack of involvement expresses itself in the form of statements that describe a favorable outcome, as if it were reached on its own, without the accompanying presence of God: "‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water.’ And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear;’ and it was so. And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth;’ and it was so. And the earth brought forth the grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after its kind… ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth;’ and it was so. And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm abundantly with moving creatures that have life, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven’" (Bereishit 1:3-14). Imagine a family in which the father sits at the head of the table, and instructs his family: “Let there be salt.” His instruction is carried out, and it is described by the words: "And there was salt." Such a man holds himself above those who surround him; he is neither involved with them nor close to their world. In this chapter, God assigns man his destiny and blesses him from a high position, without any connection, and certainly without mutuality existing between them.

[3] "And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet grown: for the Lord had not caused it to rain upon the earth… and the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. The tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Bereishit 2:5-9).

[4] In the introduction to Shemot,God is described as present in heaven: "And it came to pass in the course of those many days, that the king of Egypt died. And the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry rose up to God by reason of the bondage" (Shemot 2:23). Afterwards, He goes down to the world in the likeness of a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud that accompany the people in their wanderings in the wilderness: "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and night. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people" (Shemot 13:20-22). He reveals Himself to the people on the mountain in the likeness of a devouring fire: "And Moshe went up into the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. And the glory of the Lord rested upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moshe out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel" (Shemot 24:15-17). Later, He comes to the Mishkan: "Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:34-35). In each of these cases, a person seeking an encounter with God must look for Him in a different place.

[5] To the exclusion of two episodes that include actions or statements of Moshe: the section dealing with the days of consecration and the eighth day in chapters 8-10 and the section dealing with the blasphemer in chapter 24.

[6] Two notes on the wording in this verse: At the beginning the call is anonymous: "And He called to Moshe"; only at the second stage is God mentioned by name: "And God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying." Simple logic dictates the opposite – mentioning the caller by name at the outset, and based on that, silence in the second stage. It seems that the matter can be understood as follows: God calls to Moshe, thus preparing him to hear the word of God. At this stage, Moshe is not yet prepared, and therefore there is no mention of God's name. After he is called, Moshe is already in a different position, prepared for the call, and so now God is also present in his speech to Moshe. It may further be asked: Does Moshe enter into the Mishkan, or does he remain outside and hear from there the word of God? It would seem that the words "from the Tent of Meeting" characterize the words as coming from that place, and not the location of Moshe as being outside the Tent.

[7] In fact, the people are encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai over the course of the entire book, as it is only in the second month of the second year that they leave their place of encampment (Bamidbar 10:11-12). Explicit connection to Mount Sinai is mentioned in 7:37-38 and in 25:1, 27, 34.

[8] Throughout the book of Devarim,there are only three short statements of God. One is in chapter 31, when God speaks to Moshe (31:14-21); a second is when God instructs Moshe to go up onto Mount Avarim and die there; and a third is when Moshe is on Mount Avarim and God says to him: "And the Lord said to him, ‘This is the land which I swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, saying, I will give it to your seed.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there" (34:4).

[9] Throughout the book of Vayikra,we find commands without reports regarding their execution, and thus there is no gap between command and action. Even in the two sections that describe human action (regarding the dedication of the Mishkan, and later in the story of the blasphemer), Scripture refers time and time again to Moshe's faithful execution of God's command: "And Moshe did as the Lord commanded him" (Vayikra 8:4, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29; 9:10; and with different variations: 9:6, 7, 10, 21; 10:1, 13, 15, 18). In corresponding fashion, veering from God's command exacts a heavy price from Nadav and Avihu, when they offer "a strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not" (Vayikra 10:1). These are all expressions of the assumption underlying the book – keeping true to the word of God as is.

[10] In the book of Vayikra,the land belongs to God. This being the case, one who purchases land is forbidden to relate to it as if he owns it: "The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me" (Vayikra 25:23).

[11] As, for example, in the section dealing with a king: "When you come to the land which the Lord your God gives you, and shall possess it, and shall dwell in it, and shall say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are about me’" (Devarim 17:14). Asking for a king is a historical event that will take place after many generations have passed. In the wake of a historical process that includes coming to the land, giving it to the people, possessing it, and dwelling in it, the people may develop and open themselves up to a mitzva that sets a new model of leadership.

[12] In the book of Devarim, on the other hand, Moshe speaks about the land of Israel as a place that was given to the people of Israel and belongs to them: "Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours; from the wilderness to the sea shall be your border" (Devarim 11:24); "When you have eaten and are replete, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you" (ibid. 8:10).

[13] This position – of creating frameworks and taking responsibility for them – is present over and over again in the parshiyot of the book of Devarim. For example, Parashat Shofetim opens with the obligation to establish a legal system (16:18-20), and later addresses the obligation to appoint a king (17:14-20). These two sections are formulated in the singular and relate to the people as an entity that is responsible for justice and the monarchy. Additional responsibility will also be cast later in the sections dealing with cities of refuge (19:1-13), the heifer whose neck is broken (21:1-9), and others.

[14] A similar phenomenon is found in the Mishna and in the Talmud. A mishna that opens a chapter or a tractate, and similarly an opening discussion in the gemara, often serves as an introduction, which presents the basic principles and values ​​that underlie the Mishna or the Gemara.

[15] Not a specific place of encampment, but rather a general designation connecting the camp to the wilderness.

[16] As opposed to the book of Vayikra, where the call is "from the Tent of Meeting," here in Bamidbar the words are "in the Tent of Meeting." The difference may be explained as follows: In the book of Vaykira, the Tent of Meeting serves as a source, as if to say, this is the message issuing from the Tent of Meeting. In the book of Bamidbar, the radiation of the Tent of Meeting is softer; it serves as the fitting site of the resting of the Shekhina with no direct influence on the world outside.

[17] These descriptions are not self-evident. To illustrate the matter, in the book of Vayikra, God calls to Moshe from the Tent of Meeting. There too the people are present in the wilderness, in the wake of the revelation at Mount Sinai, but nevertheless, Scripture does not note this fact. This is because the context of "wilderness" is not relevant in the book of Vayikra, just like "time" is not relevant there.

[18] As opposed to the names of the various books of the Torah used by Chazal and their names in foreign languages, the names that we use are derived from the first or one of the first words of the book. The selection in our case of the word Bamidbar expresses a deeper message and broader context for the entire book.

[19] What is the relationship between "by the number of names, every male," which relates to the names of the people, and "by their polls," which relates to heads or numbers, with no personal identification? The answer seems to be that the verse speaks of "the number of names," rather than "names." Note is taken of the fact that everyone has a name, but at the same time the number of names is the issue, rather than direct use of those names.

[20] We are not dealing here with preparation for war, as is evidenced by the fact that the count "from twenty years and upward" includes old men who are no longer fit to go out to war.

[21] An account of the count of the people in practice (1:17-47); note of the fact that the tribe of Levi was not counted; the location of their encampment, and their being assigned to keep charge of the Mishkan (1:48-54); arranging the tribes "every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts," and the place of the Levites who were not counted among the people of Israel (chapter 2); the descendants of Moshe and Aharon, and the Levites who are given by the people of Israel to Aharon and his sons (3:5-10); the Levites who are given in replacement of the firstborns (3:11-13); the count of the Levites, and the charge of Kehat, Gershon, and Merari in bearing the Mishkan when the camp moves forward (chapters 3-4).

[22] Once in the book of Shemot, even before the exodus from Egypt, is reference made to the "heads of the houses of their fathers." Scripture spells out the heads of the houses of the fathers of the tribes of Reuven and Shimon as an introduction to the parallel detailing regarding the tribe of Levi, the tribe of Moshe and Aharon. From this account, it may be concluded that this realm of the houses of the fathers was not marked by chaos, but nevertheless the discussion is limited and without a practical context.

[23] As Chazal said in a midrash: "'And they declared their pedigrees' (va-yityachasu); and similarly it says: 'These are the generations of the heaven and the earth'" (Pesikta Zutrata, Bamidbar 2a). See also the Targum Yonatan. The Ramban notes (ad loc.) that this expression (va-yityaledu), like other stages in the census, is not found in the additional census taken in the fortieth year: "For in the second census where mention is made of the families, it does not say 'And they declared their pedigrees,' and it does not mention 'by the number of names, by their polls.' This is because from the time that they camped according to their standards, the tribes were separated one from the other, and the families knew to which they tribe they belonged, and all they needed there was to know how many families there are in the tribe, and the family would count its members according to heads, and not by the number of their names, and therefore there was no need for the princes at that count." The Ramban identifies the first census as establishing the tribal and familial framework. (As opposed to our explanation, he restricts this to the level of reporting, rather than the level of clarification and remapping).

[24] In greater detail: The command to do a count, the names of the tribal princes (1:1-19) – importance of the people and of the princes who lead them; the count (1:20-47) – the age of twenty, which marks entry into the community; "Only you shall not number the tribe of Levi," an account of the encampment of the Levites and their keeping the charge of the Mishkan (1:48-54); the location of the Levites in relation to the rest of the people; the arrangement of the tribes (2) – the standard as sign of the tribe; the generations of Aharon and Moshe (3:1-4) – an account of the generations in the family of Aharon in the context of the setting aside of the Levites, and in the larger context of the arrangement of the camp; the count of the Levites, and the charges of Kehat, Gershon, and Merari with respect to bearing the Mishkan when the camp goes forward (3:5-4); sending the unclean out of the camp (5:1-4) in the context of the sanctity of the camp of Israel; a collection of commandments (the sacrifices brought for trespass, a sotah, and a nazir) which is fully connected to God's intervention in the camp of Israel; the priestly blessing (6:22-27) - "In this way you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them"; the offerings of the princes (7) – the dedication of the Mishkan from the perspective of the princes of the people, rather than from the perspective of the priestly service described in the book of Vayikra; "When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light towards the body of the candlestick" (8:1-4) – the priestly service with the candlestick symbolizes light which shines outwards, as opposed to their service in the book of Vayikra, which focuses on the altar; "Take the Levites" (8:5-26) – the Levites are given a central role, as opposed to the priests who are the focus of the book of Vayikra. The Levites are the agents of the people of Israel: "And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Take the Levites from among the children of Israel…’"; Pesach and Pesach Sheni (9:1-14) – Pesach expresses God's selection of the people of Israel in Egypt. Pesach Sheni embodies the fact that even after the time for the Paschal offering has passed, one must not forgo one's belonging to Israel: "Why are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the Lord in its appointed season among the children of Israel"; the order of the journey in the context of the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud (9:15-23) – God's presence in the camp in the Mishkan as resting among the people of Israel, present in the heart of the camp; the journey of the camp in the context of the trumpets, if you go to war (10:1-10); the beginning of the journey (10:11-36); "And it came to pass, when the ark set forward" (10:35-36) – the setting forward of the camp is described as the setting forward of the ark, a sign of the important presence of He who rests among the camp of Israel.

[25] Chazal saw this verse as the end of a unit. The Torah itself may indicate this with the inverted nuns that set the verse off. See Shabbat 116a.

[26] The crises: The people complaining, Kivrot ha-Ta'ava (11); Miryam and Aharon speak against Moshe, God intervenes, Miryam's leprosy (12); the sin of the spies (13-14); the man gathering sticks and his being stoned by the people (15:32-36); the sin and the crisis of Korach and his band, the plague, Aharon and his sons bearing the sin of the Mikdash (16-18).

[27] The events recorded include: The death of Miryam; the sin of Moshe and Aharon at Mei Meriva; the confrontation with Edom that had been prevented; the death of Aharon (20); a series of confrontations or encounters with other nations; the war against the Canaani who lived in the Negev; the bronze serpent; the song "Alei Be'er"; the confrontation with Sichon, king of the Emori, and Og, king of the Bashan – the conquest of the east bank of the Jordan (21); Balak ben Tzippor and Bil'am ben Be'or – spiritual war with a sage of the nations of the world (22-24); sexual misconduct with the daughters of Moav, Moshe's response, Pinchas' zealotry (25); a census of the people in the wake of the crisis (26); the section dealing with inheriting the land – among whom the land will be divided, the daughters of Tzelofchad who ask for a share; appointment of Yehoshua as leader (27); the daily offering, the additional offerings on special days as communal offerings that give expression to its value (28-29); vows within the family – the structure of the family (30); revenge against Midyan – a way of dealing with the great crisis that befell the people when they met the daughters of Moav and Midyan (31); the inheritance of the descendants of Gad and Reuven on the east bank of the Jordan (32); an account of the journeys and encampments (33); assigning territories to each of the tribes (end of 33, 34); the cities of the Levites and the cities of refuge (35); the ramifications of the request of the daughters of Tzlofchad on the inheritances of the tribes (36).

[28] This part opens with: "Then came the children of Israel, the whole congregation into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh, and Miryam died there, and was buried there" (Bamidbar 20:1). The expression, "the whole congregation," can be understood as noting the fact that all those who were to die in the wilderness had already died. The 38 year gap is mentioned in the book of Devarim: "And the days in which we came from Kadesh-Barnea until we were come over Nachal Zered were thirty eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as the Lord swore to them. For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed. So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead from among the people that the Lord spoke to me, saying" (Devarim 2:14-17). The midrash states (Mekhilta De-Rabbi Yishmael, Bo 1): "R. Akiva said: 'Saying' – go out and say to them that it is by their merit that He speaks with me, for all thirty eight years that He was angry with Israel, He did not speak with me, as it is stated: 'So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead from among the people that the Lord spoke to me, saying' (Devarim 2:17)'… It was not only Moshe with whom He spoke only by the merits of Israel, but rather with all the prophets He spoke only by the merits of Israel."

[29] It is interesting that in the very existence of the two authorities there is embedded to a great degree the depth of the story of the partnership between parents and their children. The domain of the children is present alongside the domain of the parents. The parents are legal owners, those who largely establish the laws, and at the same time, their children are, in practice, responsible for what happens in the room, physically and spiritually. Together, these two authorities embroider family life.

[30] The section dealing with bikkurim and bi'ur ma'asrot is well-formulated. The person states: "And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which You, O Lord, have given me." Immediately afterwards, he turns to God and says: "Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel, and the land which You have given us, as You did swear to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Devarim 26:15). Another expression of God's greatness is found in this book: "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other" (Devarim 4:39), and elsewhere.

[31] About thirty times God is described as choosing in the book of Devarim, but not even once is He so described in the book of Vayikra. God chooses His nation, the place where He will rest His Shekhina, and the king. These acts of choosing embody an inner position, the decision to love His people, the decision to rest His Shekhina in the place prepared for Him by man, or the decision to confirm the people's choice of a king. A clear expression of the fact that God's choosing a place means that He chooses to rest His Shekhina there follows from what is stated: "And the Lord appeared to Shelomo by night, and said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place to Myself for a house of sacrifice… For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there for ever; and My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually’" (II Divrei Ha-Yamim 7:12; 16). The divine selection of a place for the Shekhina did not take place during the days of David, and not even during the stages that preceded the actual building of the Temple by Shelomo. It was only after all of this, at the dedication of the Temple, that the time came when God chose the house that was built, to rest His Shekhina in it, and sanctify it. In the broad sense, this is a decision to come and rest in the living system that was built by man.