By the Numbers
At the center (literally) of these opening chapters and verses of the Book of Numbers is the Mishkan/Tabernacle (and future Temple) of HaShem.
Our Sages of Blessed Memory would use the Tabernacle as a way of symbolizing forever the central role it would play in the life of every Jew as an individual and as a nation.
The visual that parsha Bamidbar paints of the Tabernacle rising up in the center of the camp surrounded internally by the Levites at various stages around the inner walls and, outside those walls the twelve Tribes at each compass point with the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night above it; was a constant reminder to them and all future generations of the seed of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov of that monumental moment when they surrounded the base of Mount Sinai as the Glory of HaShem descended upon the mountain and the Torah was given by Adonai to His people to be an eternal and binding covenant between Him and us forever.
A census is normally forbidden in Israel unless called by HaShem for a specific, and generally, one-time purpose.
King David once called for a census without HaShem’s permission and it cost him and his kingdom. [SEE: I Chronicles 21:1-13 and II Samuel 24:1-14].
So, calling for a census without a specific commandment from HaShem to do so is a really big NO-NO! Why? Because HaShem wants His people to trust in Him and not in the fallacy of numbers. Which humans are want to do once they know the numbers and develop a false sense of security from them.
In this parsha HaShem does call on Moshe to count certain members of each tribe. The reason for this census was to give Moshe and each tribal leader the nation’s potential strength for battles they will ultimately face as they prepare for arrival and entrance into the Land of Promise. It was also commanded to ensure the safety of the Tabernacle, not only during those future wars, but also during their normal sojourning to get there.
The question then arises: “Could HaShem not simply protect the Tabernacle on His own? After all we witnessed His power against the mightiest nation existing at the time - Egypt. And, His glorious awesome display of force and energy at Mount Sinai.”
Of course He could protect the peoples and the Tabernacle without any human intervention whatsoever. However, HaShem needed then and even with us today, to instill in the minds of His people the need for them to be participants in this relationship covenant between Him and us. It is a two-way relationship/partnership. Our part is to love Adonai with all our minds, souls and possessions - be vigilant in keeping His commandments, laws and statues found in Torah and He, in turn, ensures our safety, provision for all our needs, the continuation of His presence among us in the land He swore to our fathers to give us as He displays His Glory from His Tabernacle in our midst. As we are with His Torah so is the well-being of the nation and its core — the Tabernacle of HaShem.
Until next time — Shalom!