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.
The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
“In the desert...” (1:1)
I think one of the most chilling photographs at Yad Vashem is of a well-to-do Dutch family being escorted to a train to take them to their final destination. It's clear they have no idea where they are going. They take with them everything they can, including the family dog. Quiet desperation is written on their faces.
I often wonder how I would have reacted in their place. What if I had been born a decade earlier and without the few miles of the English Channel?
How would I have stood up to that horrific sixteen-hour journey in a cattle train surrounded by the screaming of small children and the stench of an overflowing pail to accommodate the sanitary needs of over fifty people? How would I have reacted to seeing my family standing waiting for 'a shower'? I wonder.
How was it that seemingly ordinary people were able to show such extraordinary courage and bravery in the face of events which make a nightmare pale?
The Midrash tells us that the Torah was given in Fire, in Water and in the Desert.
What does this mean?
It was through Abraham that we received the Torah in Fire. Abraham went through the fiery furnace of Ur Kasdim rather than deny G-d. He is the father of the Jewish People, our progenitor. We carry his spiritual genes.
At the ReedSea, the Jewish People as a nation passed an ordeal by water. The Egyptians army was poised to drive them into the sea. At G-d’s command the entire nation jumped into the water, and the sea parted.
And if you’ll say that this was merely a moment of bravado, then look at a third event that sealed the capacity of the Jewish People for self-sacrifice. They followed Moshe into the unsown vastness of the wilderness, without food, without water, with nothing more than the promise of miracle food from Above. Their only companions were snakes and scorpions.
It was these three ordeal - in fire, in water and in the desert - that anchored in the spiritual genes of the Jewish People the capacity for self-sacrifice. To this day, it is this legacy which has empowered ordinary people to behave extra-ordinarily, to reach up and proclaim, in the face of Hell, their faith in Heaven.
- Source: Rabbi Meir Shapiro from Lublinin Mayana shel Torah