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Naso 5778-2018

“Counting the ‘Special’ People”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In last week’s parasha, parashat Bamidbar, after conducting a census of all the tribes of Israel and assigning each tribe a camping location around the Tabernacle, G-d tells Moses, Numbers 3:15, to count the sons of Levi. The conclusion of that count is found in this week’s parasha, parashat Naso.

In Numbers 4:48 we are informed that the total number of Levites from the family of Merari, from age 30 years old until 50 years, was 8,580. Like all the other Levites, the Merarites were counted, Numbers 4:46, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to their families and according to their fathers’ household.

The Midrash, Bamidbar Rabbah 8, points to an interesting anomaly in the text. The Levites are always counted לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to the families and according to the households. The tribes of Israel are also counted לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, וּלְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, according to their families and according to their households.

The emphasis on the families and households underscores Judaism’s supreme regard for family–the ultimate source of strength and structure of the People of Israel. Therefore, any person claiming to be a כֹּהֵןkohen, priest had to provide proof that he was from the particular household of Aaron. Levites, as well, must prove that they descend from the family of Levi. In fact, each member of the twelve tribes of Israel had to prove that they were members of that particular tribe according to their families and their fathers’ household. An allusion to this is found in the well-known Hallel prayer, Psalms 135:19-20, בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם; בֵּית אַהֲרֹן, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם. בֵּית הַלֵּוִי, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם, House of Israel bless the L-rd, House of Aaron bless the L-rd, House of Levi bless the L-rd.

However, no allusion to “house” is found in the psalm’s conclusion: יִרְאֵי השׁם, בָּרְכוּ אֶת השׁם, Those who fear the Lord, bless the L-rd.

The Midrash notes that in Psalm 146:8-9, we read, השׁם, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים, השׁם, שֹׁמֵר אֶת גֵּרִים, G-d loves the righteous and G-d protects the righteous converts. There is no mention of “house” in this verse, because G-d’s love for the righteous and the converts is not due to an inherited portion of land or because they belong to a particular family. Any person who wants to be righteous, says the Midrash, even a gentile, can become righteous without being a member of a particular tribe, sect or family. Those who “fear the L-rd” are not G-d-fearing because they belong to a particular family or tribe, but because they stand up and proclaim their love of G-d. That is why the Al-mighty declares in Psalms 146:8-9, השׁם, אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים, השׁם, שֹׁמֵר אֶת גֵּרִים, G-d loves the righteous and G-d protects the righteous converts.

Only those who descend from the House of Levi can be Levites, only those who descend from the House of Aaron can be priests and only those who descend from the tribe of Benjamin can be Benjaminites. But, all those who faithfully submit themselves to G-d can be G-d-fearing, and all those who proclaim that the L-rd is G-d, can be regarded as righteous converts.

The Midrash tells of a king who entrusted his flock of sheep and goats to a loyal shepherd, who would take the king’s flocks out to pasture each day and bring them in at night to rest. One day, a deer joined the flock and started to accompany the herd wherever it went. The shepherd asked the king what to do with this strange animal. The king quickly took a liking to the deer because it seemed to care so deeply for the king’s sheep and goats, and rather than remain in the wilderness with the other deer, helped the shepherd tend to the needs of the king’s flock.

So says G-d, the righteous converts could have remained in great comfort with their families. Instead, they chose to embrace G-d’s flock. I will love them more and care for them more.

And, so it is with the righteous people, who could have chosen to follow the masses, living comfortably along with the other Israelites. Instead, they chose to live heightened spiritual lives, and influence others with their righteous behavior. The Al-mighty therefore embraces them as His own, and cares for them as the apple of His eye.

May you be blessed.