Parashat Bamidbar (In the Desert)

Numbers 1:1-4:20

The book of Numbers in Hebrew is called “In the Desert (or Wilderness)” and it describes the time when the Children of Israel wandered in the desert. While this book can be challenging to read and understand, it reveals much about God’s character – His holiness, His honor, and His command for order among other things. It also reveals in more detail His specific plan of taking “a people unto [Himself].” The book opens with instruction from God to take a census:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies. ” Numbers 1:1-3

It is interesting to note that the census is only for every man from twenty years old… The reason for it is that men were eligible to fight at this age, as it says, “every male that is able to go out to war in Israel…” However, when we reach verse 47, we learn that one of the tribes had a different role:

“ The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe. For the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying, “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. “But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle.” Numbers 1:47-50

God had a different, specific role for the Levites; they were to care for the Tabernacle of the Testimony and everything connected to it. The Levites were to be separated unto God’s service, to fulfill a very specific role, which God predestined for them. In the next verse we find something small yet, very important for us to understand, since it has nothing to do with the role of the Levites:

“So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the Stranger who comes near shall be put to death.” Numbers 1:51

The stranger here refers to anyone who is not a Levite, which is basically anyone who is not from the specific group of people whom God has chosen to care for the Tabernacle of the Testimony. The consequence for this “stranger” who puts himself in the role of Levite without being an actual Levite is death – a supernatural death by God Himself. This command is repeated in Numbers 3:10, 38 and 4:15, 19-20.

This may seem harsh from our human perspective, but this reveals something crucial about God’s character. There was only one way to do things and that is God’s way -no short cuts, no self-made choices – only the way He instructed things to be done. Any other way would bring death.

Each of us has a choice; we either do things our way, or accept His way. We either accept the death that He paid for us, follow His calling for us, and live an everlasting life with our Creator, or we choose our own way, which will lead us to an everlasting separation from our Creator.

Which is your choice?

Shabbat Shalom,


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