This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.By Shoshana Rosa
Who asked for a spreadsheet? This coming shabbos is the introduction to a new sefer (book):The book of Numbers. Its first chapter, Parshat Bamidbar, details Bnei Yisrael's third time being counted in the desert. The first and second countings occurred in the book on our Exodus. When the Jews left Egypt we had grown from seventy to a whopping 600,000 men. The second counting happened several chapters later after the incident with the golden calf.
This week's parsha completes the counting triad with G-d telling Moshe to organize records of proof on which people were born Jewish; men and women flocked to Moshe's tent with documents showing timelines dating back to the origin of whichever tribe they came from as well as eye witnesses to back up their claims ("I saw where Moshe was born," "I know Eliyahu's parents etc.").
How did Moshe manage to count several million people? He didn't plan the process overnight and he definitely didn't do without prior instructions from the Almighty. In the United states, Americans shudder at the thought of the annual rush that paying their income taxes in time (April 15) brings. Since the alternative is dealing with the IRS and being heavily fined, American citizens manage to organize their paperwork. As a result, they file their income taxes by the dreaded date and everyone goes home heaving a sigh of relief. A country cannot function without its tax payers' money and the citizens paying their income tax cannot do so without some level of prior planning. Thus, top notch organization is a must for both the government and the country dweller.
Lehavdil elef havdalos, (1,000 divisions) we should never compare the two ideas, however, the same parallel can be made with how Moshe did the census at the beginning of sefer Bamidbar (The Book of Numbers). Hashem had a very clear idea about how He wanted His nation organized: whom He would appoint as the leaders of each tribe and what He wanted the formation of tribes encamped around the ohel moed (tent of meeting) to look like etc. Precision was the order of the day.
Every boss needs a right wing man. Moshe, as we've already established, fit the bill perfectly. First, G-d instructed Moshe to count the men who were of military age: guys ranging from the ages of twenty to sixty. Then, our nation's leader was ordered to find the twelve men G-d had appointed to be the nasi'im (leaders of the tribes). Each nasi would help Moshe and Aaron draw a census of the people in each individual tribe. Who were the men picked to lead? Reuven's was Elizur ben (the son of) Shedeur. Shimon's was Shelumiel ben Zurishaddi. Yehudah's was Nachshon ben Aminadav. Yissachar's was Nethanel ben Zuar. Zevulun's was Eliav ben Helon. The children of Yosef got a double portion, therefore, both his sons are recorded as having nissi'im: Ephraim's was Elishama ben Ammihud and his brother Menashe's was Gamliel ben Pedahzur. Binyamin's was Abidan ben Gideoni. Dan's was Ahiezer ben Ammishaddai. Asher's was Pagiel ben Ochran. Gad's was Eliasaph ben Deuel. Naphtali's was Ahira ben Enan.
Why bother recording the minute details of each and every thing that goes on in this week's parshah? An organized workplace is a well run one to be sure but what purpose is there in recording the step by step process for progeny? One needs to be clear that the messages recorded in parshat Bamidbar can only be explained after one has clarity about the functions and duties that each segment of the Jewish nation received. For instance, we know close to nothing about the nisi'im, save for their names. However, it is possible to deduce their greatness through the telling of the famous feat of Nachshon ben Aminadav who was fearless about entering the yam suf (sea of reeds). Since Yehudah's tribe's leader put his life on the line (after all, he didn't know the sea would split), everyone else followed his example.
The Torah commends paving new paths and ideas that reveal Him in the world. If all these men got picked by G-d Himself to be the torch bearers of our nation, one can imagine, based on the knowledge gleaned from the episode of Nachshon, their piety. No information in the Torah is superfluous; incredible lessons may be unearthed by the determined learner.