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   by Jacob Solomon

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G-d spoke to Moses… Lift up the heads (count) of the entire assembly of the Israelites… by the number of names… you and Aaron shall count them… (1:1-3).

Which Moses and Aaron duly did. All the tribes were counted, except the one that had not been involved in the sin of the golden calf: the tribe of Levi. G-d told Moses to count all Israelite males from age 20 and upwards, without exceptions. Even though He nominated the names of the heads of the other tribes and did not include Levi in the list, it was Moses' own tribe, and by implication he would have been the leader. Moses, however, did not include the tribe of Levi in his count. As the text states: "The Levites… were not counted" (1:48).

Only afterwards, G-d gave his assent to Moses: "Indeed, do not count the Levites… amongst the Israelites… they shall bear the Tabernacle and its vessels, and be responsible for its service (1:50). Indeed, it appears that only then was the time that G-d "separated the Levites… to bear the Ark of the Covenant… to stand before G-d and to serve Him..." (Deut. 10:8).

Moses then counted them by the mouth of G-d - as he was commanded. Under different criteria: not from age 20 and up, but from babyhood: one month and up.

This is the only context in the Torah where this expression: "by the mouth of G-d" occurs. This is surprising, as the initiative to exclude the Israelites from the main count seems to have come from Moses. Only afterwards did G-d confirm Moses' initiative. And He even reinforced by changing the census criteria for the tribe of Levi.

This may be explained by a very important principle in leadership. Leaders have to use their initiative when they get orders. Do they take every word literally, or do they relate their instructions within the realities of their people?

Here, Moses knew that by merits of their previous records, the Levites' position was spiritual leadership, not military conquest. Thus he left them out of the G-d ordered military census. And G-d agreed with Moses' initiative: "Indeed, do not count the Levites".

Therefore the Torah's reinforcing Moses initiative with "by the mouth of G-d", shows that He fitted into Moses' common-sense leadership. This was emphasized by His emphasizing the follow-up commandment that hinged on Moses' initiative: "by the mouth of G-d".

This shows an ultimate quality in leadership according to Torah standards. Leadership does not involve blind, literal obedience, but the confidence to apply judgment of a situation where and when it is needed. And that indeed is the "mouth of G-d".

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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