Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life


The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » B'Midbar Parshah

B’Midbar: A Question of Numbers

Submitted by on May 14, 2006 – 4:21 amNo Comment | 2,985 views

A Small Tribe

In this week’s Parsha we read that Moshe took a census of the nation. A quick scan of the numbers shows the tribe of Levi to be the smallest, with only twenty-two-thousand members. By way of comparison, the other tribes had anywhere from thirty to more then one hundred thousand members. Why was the tribe of Levi so small?

To Those Who Suffered

Ramban suggests that the supernaturally high Jewish demographic in Egypt was a reward for their suffering, as the Torah states, “as they were afflicted so did they multiply.” The tribe of Levi led a relatively free and comfortable life in Egypt and was not subject to the rigors slavery. Since they were not subject to the suffering they were also not subject to the blessing of supernatural multiplication.

Kli Yakar  amplifies this teaching by explaining that the intention of this blessing was to numbers - innerstreamundermine the Egyptian design against the Jewish people. Egypt sought to diminish the Jewish numbers by attrition, through slave labor. This miracle enabled their numbers to increase despite the physical strain of slave labor. Since the tribe of Levi was not subject to these evil Egyptian designs this blessing was not applicable to them and their demography remained modest.

Natural Reduction

Kli Yakar also offers a different view. Amram, the father of Moshe, divorced his wife when Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish children, including the tribe of Levi, be thrown into the Nile. He didn’t want to give birth to children who would be immediately executed upon birth. Since Amram was the leader of his tribe it stands to reason that the entire tribe followed suit.

Amram remarried his wife after his daughter Miriam prophesied that they would give birth to a son who would survive the decree and redeem the Jewish people. The rest of the tribe enjoyed no such assurance and it stands to reason that they did not remarry. This may be the reason why their numbers were naturally lower.

Tags: ,