My notes on Parashat Bamidbar

Main reference: Rashi on Numbers, Pentateuch with Rashi’s commentary by M. Rosenbaum and A.M. Silbermann, 1929-1934 (English),


Parashat Bamidbar 

Numbers 1

1:1          And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,

Comments: This book is called “Numbers” in English, probably due to the many numbers appearing in this book, which result from counting various groups that form the people of Israel. In Hebrew, this book is called Bamidbar, which means “in the wilderness ”, which is a phrase taken from the very first verse (here) of this book. 

A related story: When I first attended a Bible study with some Jewish Christians, the teacher Roy Schwarcz asked what my profession is. I told Roy that I teach statistics. Roy replied with a quick wordplay: “To me, statistics means nothing more than bamidbar ”! It took me a while to figure out that “bamidbar” here means both “in the wilderness” and “numbers”!

Of course, numbers in the Bible are important, since each individual of Gd’s people is important enough not to be ignored. Jesus said in Luke 14:4: “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” It is striking that the phrase “in the wilderness” also appears here, in Jesus’ parable emphasizing the Shepherd’s care about His every individual sheep!


1:49          Only thou shalt not number the tribe of Levi, neither take the sum of them among the children of Israel:

Comment: Rashi mentions here two reasons why the Levites are to be counted separately (and also differently) from the Israelites. One is due to the special sanctity of the Levites as the King’s legion, another is that Gd did not want them to die in the desert together with the other Israelites of that generation (who would sin in the future by believing the bad report of the 10 spies, as recorded in Numbers 13-14). There is a common misconception that only two adult men (Joshua and Caleb) in the generation of Exodus from Egypt ultimately entered the promised land;  in fact we should also include (most of) the adult men of this generation from the tribe of Levi.


Numbers 2

2:2          Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.

Comment: Rashi cites Joshua 3:4 and says that “far off” means two thousand cubits (elbow lengths )  from the tabernacle. The 12 tribes of Israelites who are nonLevites camp 2000 cubits away around the tabernacle.  This distance is the walking distance allowed on sabbath, so that Israelites can walk to the tabernacle on Sabbath (and probably learn Torah from Moses). Even though the Israelites camp farther away than the Levites, they are still encircling and defending the tabernacle (each tribe in its own assigned direction), with Torah as their common center of value. In this sense they are not less holy (and certainly not inferior), but merely taking a different task assignment in Gd’s plan. In fact the Levites camping in the center is also regarded as (the central) part of Israel. Each tribe plays its own role and is punished or rewarded according to its own assigned task. There should not be jealousy or animosity among different tribes. In my opinion, all Gd’s people from different nations as a whole form a greater Israel. Christians from the nonJewish nations are like the 12 tribes, whose tasks are “fighting” (by spreading Gd’s word) to expand Gd’s kingdom towards all nations and families of the earth, while the Jewish believers are like the Levite tribe in the middle, who have a special task of drawing teachings from the deep Hebrew root of our faith and guarding it from paganization. By the way Jesus and all the first generation of Chritians were Jewish. There are prescribed distances that keep the tribes (or believers from different nations) camping apart (to take different tasks), but on sabbath (foretelling the world to come), all tribes (foretelling believers in all nations) will be able to come closer to the tabernacle (foretelling a new level of unification in front of Gd’s presence). 


Numbers 3

3:1          These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spake with Moses in mount Sinai.

Comment: The Hebrew text says descendants of Aaron and Moses. Here Rashi notes that the following verses list only the names Aaron’s descendants, but they are also regarded as Moses’ descendants since Moses taught them Torah. This concept, that descendants can be nonbiological, is in fact the main driving force of human progression. I am an Asian Ph.D., but if you check the mathematics genealogy, you will find me being an academic descendant of Euler, who is Caucasian. Somehow, all nonJewish Christians are also Torah descendants of Moses. Their family and former generations worshiped idols, or were agnostic, until they experienced rebirth in the resurrected Jesus Christ,  and started to be interested in learning Torah. Jesus himself did not have any biological descendant, but he has plenty of spiritual descendants, such as the 12 disciples and St Paul, who again may not have many biological descendants, but have acquired, over many generations, billions of spiritual descendants from all nations, including me, who is of Chinese origin, from an idolatrous or communistic country.


Numbers 4

4:15          And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation.

Comment: Rashi says here that if the sons of Kohath (who are Levites) would touch the holy vessels, they would die by the hands of Heaven. So what the priests (Aaron and his sons) do in covering the holy vessels is not an act of discrimination against the Kohathites, but is protecting them. Later in Numbers 16,  a Kohathite, namely Korach,  indeed coveted priesthood and died an unnatural death. I wish he had heeded Gd’s warning here in Numbers 4!


(This note is uploaded on July 18, 2022. The uploading date shown by the system was manually set, only to arrange the articles in proper order.)