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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bamidbar(68)

This week's sedra begins the fourth book of the Torah. True to its name, the book tells of events that happened to the People as they wandered in the Wilderness for 40 years. Our sedra recounts the census taken of the nation and the camping arrangement of the thirteen tribes (including Levi) in the wilderness.

Numbers 1:49

But the tribe of Levi you shall not count and their number you shall not calculate together with the Children of Israel.


But the tribe of Levi you shall not count: Rashi: The king's legion deserves to be counted by itself. Another interpretation: The Holy One foresaw that all those counted from 20 years of age and above would be part of the decree that would die in the wilderness. He (G-d) said: These (tribe of Levi) should not be part of this decree for they did not err at the [Golden] Calf.


What is bothering Rashi that prompted this comment?

Your answer:


An Answer: Rashi is relating to the fact that the tribe of Levi was to be counted separately from the other twelve tribes.

Rashi implicitly asks: Why this is so?

Rashi's comment offers two explanations for this.


On what basis does Rashi determine that since Levi was G-d's legion this was the reason for their being counted separately? Hint: See the next verse.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The very next verse (1:3) states: Appoint Levi to the Tabernacle of Testimony etc. So we see on the basis of Context that Levi's special privilege of being in charge of the Tabernacle was also likely the reason for his being counted separately.


Whenever Rashi offers two explanations on the same words, we ask: Why the need for the second explanation? Isn't the first explanation sufficient?

What do think the reason is that Rashi needed another explanation?

What is not answered by his first explanation?

Hint: Is our verse stated in positive or negative terms?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Our verse states the Levi IS NOT to be counted with the other tribes. Why not say that positively: THEY ARE to be counted separately?

Since the verse states the command in negative terms, Rashi (and the midrash) concluded that they were not to be counted for a reason. The reason being that G-d didn't want them counted in order to spare them the fate of all those that were counted - dying in the wilderness which would later be decreed on all those included in that count.

So Rashi offered his second explanation to deal with this the strange fact that the command was stated negatively ("Do not count").


Rashi says that by not being included in the present counting, Levi would be excluded from the punishment of the sin of the Spies. But Levi was not among the Spies. See Parashas Shelach. Each tribe sent a spy, but Levi did not send a spy. So why should they be punished at all?

Can you think of an answer?

Hint: How was Levi's behavior different when Israel sinned at the Golden Calf and when Israel sinned with spies?

Your Answer:


An Answer: In both cases Levi was not directly involved in the nation's sin. But at the Golden Calf the tribe of Levi stood by Moses and volunteered to wipe out the sinners. But at the sin of the Spies, Levi did nothing; they stood by quietly offering no counterforce to the erring tribes. For this they deserved to be punished. But Hashem remembered their bravery at the Golden Calf and took this into account and thus saved them from punishment when the Spies were punished.


: We see that both of Rashi's explanations necessary; each was based on a different aspect of the text.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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