Parashat Bemidbar, the first portion of the Book of Numbers, presents a unique perspective on the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. It opens with a census of the Israelite population, which is conducted by the tribe of Levi and records the number of men who are fit for military service. This census establishes the structure of the Israelite camp, with the tribes arranged in a specific formation around the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that serves as the center of worship and communication with God. Though this parasha is not thought of as one that deals with morality, there are plenty of important lessons about ethical behavior that can be gleaned from the text.
The parashah then describes the duties of the Levites, who are responsible for transporting and maintaining the Tabernacle and its sacred objects. It also outlines the procedures for breaking camp and traveling through the wilderness, as well as the protocol for offering sacrifices and observing the various festivals.
This emphasis on structure and order is not unique to Parashat Bemidbar, but is a recurring theme throughout the Torah. From the creation of the world in Genesis to the construction of the Temple, the Bible portrays God as a God of order and organization, who establishes laws and rituals to guide the behavior of His people. Even in the place one camps, each tribe has a designated place, and each member of the tribe has a specific role to play in the community. They are all responsible for each other’s well-being and success.
While it can be tempting to live a life of spontaneity and unpredictability, there is great value in establishing routines and systems that help us to achieve our goals and stay focused on what is truly important. Whether it is through setting goals, establishing a daily routine, or developing a spiritual practice, we can find ways to bring more order and structure into our lives, and in doing so, create a more meaningful and fulfilling existence.
In our own lives, we can learn from the example of Parashat Bemidbar by recognizing the importance of structure and organization, but that’s not the only way.
This parasha lends its name to the Hebrew name for the book, Sefer Bemidbar, but in English it is known as Numbers, as it is bookended by two censi. The census in this Torah portion of the Israelite people, conducted by the tribe of Levi, emphasizes that each person is counted individually, with their name recorded, rather than just tallying up the total number of people. There is intrinsic value and worth of each individual, and teaches us the importance of treating each person with respect and dignity.
These two ideas together then, structure and self-restriction taken together with individuality and indivisible self worth are both necessary for the health and wellbeing of our society. Though we are one nation with one Torah, we nevertheless need to make note of each individual.