Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Bamidbar - 5780
CENTRALITY FOR INDIVIDUALISM
In the beginning of Pareshat Bamidbar, Hashem commands Moshe and Aharon to take a census of all males above the age of 20. This was the second census in the wilderness; the first is mentioned in the book of Shemot. However, there is a difference between the two. Whereas in this week’s portion the tribes are counted separately, in Shemot the nation was counted as a whole. Some authorities explain that the count in Shemot transpired before the construction of the Tabernacle.
Before the nation had a central place of worship, a count by tribe would be a danger to Jewish unity. Counting a tribe on its own can lead to factionalism among the children of Israel, since it strengthens loyalty to one’s tribe. However, after the tabernacle was constructed and placed in their midst, physically and spiritually, the risk of tribalism evaporates. Disunity is no longer a problem when Jews have a house of worship as a central part of their life. Individualism is important and encouraged - as long as the centrality of Hashem remains as a foundation.