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by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

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Ch. 1, v. 1: "Va'y'da'beir Hashem el Moshe BMIDBAR Sinai" - This, the fourth volume of the Torah, is commonly called BMIDBAR, as is the first parsha of this volume. The first word of Breishis and Vayikroh are the titles of their respective volumes. It is understandable why the first words of Shmos and Dvorim, "V'ei'leh" and "Ei'leh" are not the title of their respective volumes, as these words are not key words that indicate anything about their parshios. However, since Vayikroh is the title used for the third volume of the Torah, why can't "Va'y'da'beir" be the title of our volume and parsha? Is "And He spoke" any less a title than "And He called?" Indeed, the gemara Yerushalmi Megiloh chapter #3 calls this volume "Va'y'da'beir." The gemara Sotoh 36b calls it "chumash hapkudim," the book of census taking.

Perhaps "Va'y'dabeir" would be an appropriate title, but our Rabbis wanted to stress that the Torah was given and lived in a desert to indicate that the proper pursuit of the Torah requires that one not busy himself in acquiring comfortable physical accommodations, as this detracts from Torah and mitzvoh pursuits.

The M.R. at the beginning of our parsha says that the Torah was given with fire, water, and in a desert. This alludes to the responsibility to spread the knowledge of Torah, just as fire spreads and consumes. Just as water seeks out the lowest level, so too, the Torah scholar must behave in a humble manner. Just as a desert does not change, as nothing grows there, the Torah is constant and does not change. (Birkas Yitzchok)

Ch. 1, v. 2: "B'mispar sheimos" - We find the mention of the count of their NAMES here but not in the count in parshas Pinchos (26:2). This difference can be explained as follows: Here we count the bnei Yisroel who left Egypt. One of their merits was that although they were enslaved in a foreign land, they did not change their names. Thus our verse mentions "sheimos." The count in parshas Pinchos is that of the next generation, those who will enter Eretz Yisroel, so the term "sheimos" is not used.

While on the subject of the great value of maintaining names, it is told of a chosid of the Sfas Emes who had ample opportunity, yet infrequently came to his Rebbe for counsel, etc. (See Ramban on 1:45 about the importance of appearing in front of a great Torah leader. This is not limited to Chasidim.) Upon the birth of a son he came to the Sfas Emes, seeking advice on the naming of his newborn son. The Sfas Emes chastised him, saying that when he should have come to him he did not, and now regarding the naming of his son, where Hashem sends a name to the father, and this being a message close to the level of prophecy, he bothers to come.

The great Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua Yisroel Tronk, author of Y'shu'ose Malko, Miktzo'a baTorah, and numerous other sforim, had a most interesting story surrounding his naming. At his circumcision his father gave him the names Yehoshua Yisroel. During the meal following the circumcision, as he sat at the head table, his father spontaneously banged on the table and blurted out, "I forgot!" The Rabbi sitting next to him asked for an explanation. He said that he intended to give his son three names, not two. They were to be Yisroel, for the Holy Baal Shem Tov, Eliyohu, for the GR"A, and Yehoshua, for the Pnei Yehoshua. He had forgotten to mention the name Eliyohu. The Rabbi sitting next to him responded that Hashem fulfilled his wish, as he did not really leave out the name Eliyohu. The names Yisroel Yehoshua that he gave his son contain in them the name Eliyohu. The last two letters of Yisroel are Alef-Lamed. The first three letters of Yehoshua are Yud-Hei-Vov. These five letters in their exact order that they appear in Yisroel Yehoshua, spell out Eliyohu, Alef-Lamed-Yud-Hei-Vov.

Ch. 1, v. 4: "Ish rosh l'veis avosov" - The Rov of Cordova had a son and a student. Unfortunately, his son did not interest himself in Torah studies, and remained unlearned. His student's parents were very low class people. However, the student applied himself very diligently to his studies and excelled, becoming the best student of the Rov. Upon the demise of the Rov, the community understandably appointed the scholarly student in his place. Came the day wen the jealous son laced into the new Rov, reminding him that he came from a family of lowly people. The Rov calmly responded, "Your father is the end of a line of distinguished scholars, while I hope to be the beginning of a line of great Torah personages." Thus our verse tells us that a person should be ROSH, a head "l'veis avosov."

Ch. 1, v. 4: "Ish rosh l'veis avosov HU" - The last word in this verse seems to be superfluous. This word teaches us that one should be a head, a leader, not because of family lineage, nor because of the influence of money, but rather because of HIS OWN merits. (Ol'lose Efrayim)

Ch. 3, v. 1: "V'ei'leh toldos Aharon u'Moshe" - Although the verse begins with the children of Aharon and Moshe, only the children of Aharon are mentioned. Rashi points out that only the children of Aharon are listed. He says that we derive from this the maxim that he who teaches his friend's child Torah, is as if he sired that child (gemara Sanhedrin 19b). The Ahavas Tzion drush #9 (written by the Nodah Bihudoh) says that this is to be taken literally, and one can fulfill the mitzvoh of "pru u'rvu" by teaching another's child.

The Birkei Yoseif (Chid"o) says, "Do not think that this is only true when the father had no Torah input and the other person taught the child all his Torah. The gemara Eiruvin 54b says that Aharon taught his sons that which Moshe taught him. We see from this that even in such a case a teacher is still considered as if he sired him."

Ch. 3, v. 13: "Ki li kol bchor" - Rabbi Yoseif Bchor Shor gives a most interesting insight into why the first-born were replaced by the L'viim. L'viim were not given a real estate inheritance in the land in the same manner as the other tribes. They thus had limited opportunity for agricultural and cattle-grazing pursuits. They were then free to serve Hashem. The first-born, on the other hand, inherit a double portion of their fathers' assets. Thus they are much more prone to be involved in material pursuits and unable to serve Hashem in the same capacity as the L'viim. The Sforno on our verse gives us some most interesting information about the Kohanim and L'viim replacing the first-born in positions of serving Hashem.

Ch. 3, v. 39: "Kol p'ku'dei haL'viim ...... kol zochor mi'ben chodesh vomaloh shnayin v'esrim o'lef" - The census of all the other tribes was from the age of twenty years and older. The count of the L'viim was from the age of a month and older. Yet the L'viim had the smallest population of all the tribes. Ten explanations for this phenomenon are offered:

1) Some of the L'viim had the responsibility to carry the holiest of the Mishkon vessels. If they were not treated with proper respect it would bring about their death (Rashi on Breishis 29:34 - Also see Yalkut Shimoni on Yeshayohu remez #298). Some raise a question on this explanation, as the counting in our parsha is before the tasks were allotted. However, we can say that because the future held this awesome responsibility, it was an indication that the L'viim were on an elevated level, closer to Hashem than any other tribe. Therefore any other shortcoming in their spiritual responsibilities were also dealt with harshly, as is derived from T'hilim 50:3, "usvivov nisaroh m'ode."

2) The population explosion of the bnei Yisroel in Egypt was nothing short of miraculous. The Torah says, "kaa'sher y'anu oso kein yirbeh," - as they pained the bnei Yisroel, so did they multiply. The increase in the number of bnei Yisroel was proportionate to their suffering. Since the tribe of Levi was not subjugated to slavery, as per M.R. Shmos 5:16, they did not multiply in a miraculous manner. (Ramban)

3) Our patriarch Yaakov expressed himself with negative terms towards Shimon and Levi (Breishis 49:5,6,7). This caused a limitation in their growth. Shimon's limitation takes place at the later counting (Bmidbar 26:14). (Ramban)

4) The L'viim were the spiritual leaders of the bnei Yisroel from the earliest days in Egypt. Their total immersion in Torah weakened them physically, "Torah ma'teshes kocho shel odom" (gemara Sanhedrin 26b). Because they were physically weak they reproduced in a limited manner. (Tzror Hamor)

5) The need for the bnei Yisroel to be a large population was so that when they would enter Eretz Yisroel they would occupy a large area so that they would not be overpowered by wild animals, "pen tirbeh o'lecho chayas haso'deh" (Dvorim 7:22). Since the L'viim would not inherit a large parcel of land and in the main would reside close to the Beis Hamikdosh, there was no need to have a large number of L'viim. (Abarbenel)

6) Since the L'viim were to reside around the Mishkon compound, they were similar to the angels that descended onto Har Sinai at the time of the giving of the Torah. (This is well understood according to the explanation of the Ibn Ezra on Shmos 19:13 that the sanctity of Har Sinai was transferred to the Mishkon.) Since the number of angels who descended onto Har Sinai was 22,000, as per the verse in T'hilim 68:18, "Rechev Elokim ribosayim alfei shinon," so too, the number of L'viim in the desert was 22,000. (Kabalistic writings)

7) The gemara Sotoh 12a relates that Amrom, the recognized leader of the bnei Yisroel, divorced his wife rather than reproduce and have his children thrown into the river. All others followed suit and did the same. "All others" means all from the tribe of Levi only, as they did not have the slave mentality. They were not ready to attempt to evade the Egyptians by giving birth in the fields and leaving their children there, as did the rest of the bnei Yisroel. They remained divorced from their wives for many years and therefore had a limited population. Amrom took back his wife shortly after he divorced her because of the prophecy of his daughter Miriam, as related in the above-mentioned gemara. (Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh and Kli Yokor)

8) If the L'viim were to multiply as greatly as the other tribes, when they would all live in Eretz Yisroel the L'viim would become an unbearable burden upon the other tribes, as they are involved in serving Hashem and are supported by everyone else. As well, more or larger parcels of land would have to be cut out of the other tribes' inheritance to supply them with land for housing. (Meshech Chochmoh) This opinion is mentioned in the Kli Yokor and he resoundingly disagrees with it.

9) Whatever is more dear, its development is more complicated and more difficult to come to fruition. The tribe of Levi, the spiritually chosen of Hashem were therefore a limited group. (Haa'meik Dovor)

10) Rashi on Bmidbar 26:5 says that the Canaanites claimed that the bnei Yisroel were not of pure stock, reasoning that if the Egyptians were masters over the men, surely they lorded over their wives. The extreme population explosion of the bnei Yisroel clearly counters this claim since the gemara Avodoh Zoroh 54b says that if one were to commit adultery with a woman, by right the woman should not get pregnant, as a sin was committed. However, Hashem allowed the world to proceed by the "laws of nature" and it is possible to become pregnant even through an act of sin. This reasoning preempts a population explosion brought about by adultery. It is with difficulty that Hashem allows a pregnancy, but He would not allow multitudes beyond the "laws of nature" to be conceived in sin. Therefore the population explosion of the bnei Yisroel counters the claim that the Egyptians sinned with the bnos Yisroel.

This is an insight into "V'chaa'sher y'anu oso kein yirbeh " (Shmos 1:12). The more the Egyptians pained the bnei Yisroel and lorded over them, the more the bnei Yisroel multiplied, testimony that the bnei Yisroel were not sired by the Egyptians. Since the bnei Levi were not enslaved by the Egyptians, as per M.R. Shmos 5:16, there never was a claim that their wives were misused by the Egyptians. Since there was no such claim there was no need for the miracle of extreme population growth. This is also why the L'viim were counted separately (1:49), as they needed no proof for their pure lineage, as stated, "V'haL'viim l'ma'tei avosom" (1:47). (Adapted from the words of the Sha"ch and the M'lo Ho'omer)

PLEASE NOTE: It is worthwhile to see many of the above commentaries at the source, as they fill in more details. As well, we find in Divrei Hayomim 1:23:3 that the L'viim increased in number in Eretz Yisroel more than any other tribe. According to some of the above-mentioned answers this is most difficult to explain.



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