Main reference: Rashi on Numbers, Pentateuch with Rashi’s commentary by M. Rosenbaum and A.M. Silbermann, 1929-1934 (English), https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Numbers?tab=contents
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 not counted together with the Israelites. One is due to the special sanctity of 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 due to a future sin related to the bad report of spies 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.
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 from 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).
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 says descendants of Aaron and Moses. Here Rashi noted that the following scripture lists only the names Aaron’s descendants, and 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 communisitc country.
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 Korah, indeed coveted priesthood and died an unnatural death. I wish he had heeded Gd’s warning here in Numbers 4!
4:49 According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.
Comment: Rashi comments that the counting here was done as Gd commanded in Numbers 4:3, that is, Moses counted Levites from 30-50 years old, who will assist the priests to serve Gd. This is differently from the counting of Israelites, who were counted from 20 years old, for serving in the troops. Why is a strong young Levite of 20 years old not regarded as mature enough to assist the priests? It turns out that serving Gd by assisting the priests, not only requires physical strength, but also spiritual maturity to treat his assistantship to be, surprisingly, as exalted as the reigning of a king, as the Levites‘ “inaugural age” 30 alludes to. Joseph the servant didn’t become the effective ruler of Egypt until age 30 (Genesis 41:46). David didn’t reign as king until age 30 (II Samuel 5:4). Jesus didn’t start to preach the kingdom of Gd until age 30 (Luke 3:23). Jesus is both Gd’s ultimate servant (the Messiah son of Joseph), and His anointed king (the Messiah son of David), who has unified the two opposite roles of a servant and a king. Jesus also taught his followers in Matthew 20:25-28: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
5:13 And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;
Comment: Rashi noted here that the married woman was found to be alone with a man who is not her husband. This is called seclusion, which should be avoided as much as possible (except for some special situations), since it could lead to adultery (or suspicions of adultery). Torah explicitly forbids adultery (in 10 commandments) with death penalty (Leviticus 20:10). Seclusion is prohibited in Jewish culture as a preventative measure against adultery, see, e.g.,
6:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD:
Comment: Rashi comments here about the proximity of the description of the Nazarites to the description of testing a possible adulterous woman, and makes a connection that avoidance of wine could help prevent adultery. I wonder if there is a connection also between the teaching on Nazarites and another close-by teaching on blessing of Israelites. Also, how is growing long hair related to not drinking wine for Nazarites? I don’t know how to answer these questions.
6:24 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
6:25 The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
6:26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
Comment: This is the famous three-verse priestly blessing.
In Hebrew, the first verse of this priestly blessing consists of three words. This reminds me three forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In this blessing we are blessed as the three forefathers were blessed, “in all”, “from all”, “all”, as mentioned in the grace after meals and alluded to in the Torah. (See, e.g., http://www.jewishduluth.org/rabbi/2010/11/4/everything.html or https://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/vayish67.htm .) Gd is the Gd of Abraham, Gd of Isaac, Gd of Jacob, a personal Gd to each of us, this also explains why the priestly blessings are bestowed upon a singular object, you.
In Hebrew, the second verse of the priestly blessing consists of five words. This reminds me of the five books of Torah, which represent Gd’s word. In this blessing we are blessed with Gd’s word. This verse involves a word related to light, since Gd’s word is the light that guides our living in this world. This verse also involves a word related to grace, since we our personal effort is not enough to uphold Torah, without ultimately relying on Gd’s grace.
In Hebrew, the third verse of the priestly blessing consists of seven words. This reminds me of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest made holy and blessed by the creator, which represents the perfection and harmony of both the physical world and the spiritual world. In this blessing we are blessed with the world to come, in which there will be a perfect peace.
These three verses of the priestly blessing, therefore, encompass our past, our present, and our future, and are originated from the one L-RD who was, who is, and who will be.
7:7 Two wagons and four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershon, according to their service:
Comment: Rashi commented here that the hardness of work is proportional to the number of wagons given to each Levite division. If so, then why is the division of Kohath not given any wagon, while they have to carry the holy items such as the ark on their shoulders (Numbers 7:9)? There is a Jewish legend that in fact the ark carries its carriers. (A derivation and interpretation can be seen at https://www.sefaria.org/Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Shemot.25.10.9?lang=bi .) The ark contains the tablets, on which Ten Commandments are written, so it represents Gd’s word. When we make an effort to carry it (to live according to what Gd says), it (Gd’s word) then carries us to live (through our life’s burden). A concrete example is the divine commandment of resting on sabbath. Carrying out this commandment of rest helps us to be recharged weekly to carry out our worldly burdens. The New Testament regards Jesus as the incarnation of Gd’s word, who carries our burdens. So that is why Jesus says: (Matthew 11:28-30) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
As a coincidence, around the time when I was reading the Bible portion about the wagons this year, I was also helping my dad to type up his autobiography, up to the place where his colleagues rented 6 oxen wagons when surveying and making maps for a mountain area in northeastern China. The oxen wagons were used to transport surveying equipment, food, batteries, and luggage (back in 1957). These items are important, but are not alive, so they need to be carried by oxen wagons. The holy ark, on the other hand, is representing Gd’s living word, so they should not be carried by oxen wagons as if lifeless and heavy. (Unfortunately, until today many Jews are still averse to the concept of incarnation of Gd’s word. ) Uzza was killed due to a mistake of carrying the ark on a wagon, as recorded in 1st Chronicles 13, many years after the era of the book of Numbers. Apparently, people forgot about the teaching here from the book of Numbers in the Torah. (By the way, this is one of the many examples showing the life-importance of Torah in the whole Bible. Another such example, recorded in the 1st Samuels, is the failure of King Saul, due to his negligence of observing the Torah commandment of wiping out the Amalekites.)
8:19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.
Comment: Rashi noted that “the children of Israel” is repeated five times here, out of G-d’s love, and the number five is corresponding to the five Books of Moses. I wonder, how are people (the children of Israel) related to books (the five Books of Moses)? Gd’s people and Gd’s word are one, they are united like the body and the head of a same person. As the body carries out the decision of the head, Israelites carry out the teachings of the five Books of Moses. Similarly, the new testament regards the Messiah as the incarnation of Gd’ word, and his followers from all nations as Gd’s people, and teaches that they are united as the head and body of a same person (Ephesians 1:20-23).
Another interpretation: ”children of Israel” is repeated 5 times here, corresponding to their 5 camps in the desert, in the middle and in all four directions. No matter where they are, they are all encircling and defending the same ark of covenant, which represents their common Gd-centric value. No matter where they are, they are all called ”children of Israel” (literally ,”sons of Israel”), and not called children of Abraham or children of Isaac, since descendants of all 12 sons of Israel accepted the 10 commandments at mount Sinai, unlike descendants of Ishmael son of Abraham, or descendants of Esau son of Isaac who didn’t accept the 10 commandments.
9:1 And the LRD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
Comment: Rashi said here that this verse proves that the Torah is not chronological, since Numbers started describing what happened in the second month of the same year. However, there must be a reason behind the particular ordering of Gd’s words. Here Rashi says that the reason this earlier event of Passover observance was not stated in the beginning of the book, is because of a negative aspect of this earlier event: Israelites only observed Passover once this time, over their forty years in the desert. I noticed a different negative aspect, that this event involves some Israelites missing the initial opportunity of observance of Passover on the fourteenth of the first month, and had to makeup a month later on Fourteenth of the second month, which is later than the census time (first of the second month) described at the beginning of the book of Numbers.
Two questions naturally arise regarding this biblical second Passover: 1. out of so many biblical holidays, why is there only a second Passover, but not a second chance of every other holiday? 2. If people miss Passover due to being “defiled by the dead body of a man” (Numbers 9:7), wouldn’t it be enough to be cleansed by the ash of a red heifer (Rashi on Exodus 15:25) by the end of one week (Numbers 19)? Why wait for a whole month? I say that both questions are leading towards the explanation that this biblical second Passover predicts the Christian concept of the second coming of Christ. To question 1, I say that Passover is the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, not other biblical holidays. Missing Passover, instead of missing other holidays, better alludes to Jews missing acceptance of messiah at his first coming. To question 2, I say that waiting for a month (instead of for a week) is the second chance when the moon is full. It is a concept of both Christians and Jews that the phase of the moon is symbolic of the messiah (“son of David”). David’s name has a Hebrew gematria of 14, equal to the number of days for a new moon to be full. Jesus’ genealogy in the beginning of the book of matthews is recorded in chunks of 14 generations. So waiting for the second Passover in a month, when the moon becomes full again, symbolizes the second coming of the messiah, when Jews will have a second chance of accepting him.
10:36 And when it rested, he said, Return, O LRD, unto the many thousands of Israel.
Comment: Rashi noted here that Gd’s presence returns to a place with at least 22,000 Israelites, since the Hebrew text says myriads and thousands. I wonder, how is this number 22,000 significant to the Israelites? Actually, 22,000 firstborn Israelites were redeemed by the Levites, in order to be absolved from serving Gd and take mundane professions. Before the sin of worshipping the golden calf, the firstborns acted as the priests in their families. So this current verse alludes to a good wish that the firstborns of Israel will return to their family-based services of Gd. This is a good wish since each family should have its own close relationship to Gd. This seems to be Gd’s original plan, since were it not for the sin of golden calf (to which the Levites didn’t participate), the firstborns of each family would be able to lead service to Gd in the family, or go to serve in Gd’s tabernacle after the tabernacle is built, instead of the Levites who redeemed them.
Currently, many Christians worship Gd only in the church but not at home. They rely on full-time preachers who function like the Levites. Ideally, in addition to the formal community worship at the church, each family should have its own spiritual leader who functions as the firstborn and leads a possibly less formal kind of family-based worship of Gd. In this respect, Christians have a lot to learn from the Jews, who, after the Temples being destroyed, developed a comprehensive family-based worship system. They treat their dinner tables as an altar, perform home rituals each weekend to remember Gd’s deeds on creation and on exodus from Egypt, talk about words of bible during the meal times, and say grace after meal to thank Gd.
In this chapter at Number 10:1-10, I also was impressed that Moses was taught the first telecommunication system using trumpets, which is very similar to (and in fact more complex than) telegraph and Morse’s code. (There are some interesting coincidences here, regarding the similarity between the two names, and that Morse was also religious and sent the first telegraph with a message to praise Gd.) Morse’s code uses either dot or bar https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morse_code
, but Moses was taught that codes can be either long (blow) or short (alarm), performed on either one or two trumpets.
11:26 But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.
Comment: Rashi explained here that in order to be fair for all the tribes, a lottery was drawn with 72 lots, six people each of the twelve tribes drew a lot. 70 of the 72 lots had “Elder” written on them, and 2 lots had “Lot” written on them. Eldad and Medad drew the lots with “Elder” written on them, but stayed home, feeling of being unworthy. I say that they are rewarded by having their names recorded in the eternal Torah, due to their humility.
12:14 And the LRD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.
Comment: Rashi says here that if father shames daughter for 1 week, then Gd who is more esteemed, would shame His daughter for 2 weeks, but this kind of “all the more so” derivation doesn’t make things more stringent, so the period of shaming stays at 1 week. I see here that Gd chastises even a leader of His people such as Moses’ sister Miriam, but He still didn’t conceal His affection calling the one being chastised as His daughter. Knowing that the affliction comes from her father and out of love and is therefore limited properly, is a great mercy from the father.