Parshat Bamidbar: Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

By Talia Davis

photo courtesy of geoftheref via C.C. License at FlickrThe parsha (weekly Torah portion) for the week ending May 15 is Bamidbar. Bamidbar means "in the desert" in Hebrew and is the fifth word (and first distinctive word) in the portion. It is also the name of the new book we are reading, Bamidbar = Numbers. Be sure to check out the cartoons at the end for some great perspectives on these Torah portions.

Numbers is an accurate English name for this book of the Torah as this book is filled with a lot of census numbers and family lineages. The rest of the book is filled with the story of the Israelites from Sinai (where we received the Torah) and Moab where we send the twelve spies to check out the land of Israel. Then there is the exile for forty years after the negative reports from the majority of the spies. Finally, the book ends with the preparations to enter Israel.

This initial parsha tells us about the census of the Israelites and more about the priestly duties. Here is how the tribes break down:
Reuben: 46,500
Simeon: 59,300
Gad: 45,650
Judah: 74,600
Issachar: 54,400
Zebulun: 57,400
Ephraim: 40,500
Manasseh: 32,200
Benjamin: 35,400
Dan: 62,700
Asher: 41,500
Naphtali: 53,400

This equals 603,550 male Israelites of fighting age (20-60 years old). That's a lot of people to wrangle in the desert (and we don't know the count of the women and children)!

Now that everyone is accounted for, G-d tells us where to sleep. It's like bunks at sleep away camp but on a larger scale. Basically, the Levis are around the Tabernacle; Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun on the front, or east side; Reuben, Simeon, and Gad on the south side; Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin on the west side; and Dan, Asher, and Naphtali on the north side.
North
Asher DAN Naphtali
Benjamin Merari Issachar
West EPHRAIM Gershon THE TABERNACLE Priests JUDAH East
Manasseh Kohath Zedulun
Gad REUBEN Simeon
South