And Hashem spoke to Moshe in Midbar Sinai (1:1) – The Midrash highlights the fact that Torah is compared to 3 things – to fire, water and the desert – the reason is that Torah must be as freely accessible to all in the same way that all these things are free for the taking. Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht ztl. notes that on the other hand, Torah can only be acquired if one makes himself accessible TO Torah. How do we understand the somewhat conflicting Midrashim? Rav Goldvicht answers that while it is true that Torah is accessible freely, in order to possess it, one needs to be fully open to it.
From 20 and above, those who can go to battle shall be counted (1:3) – Usually one counts the troops in order to know how many there are in order to go to war. Bnei Yisrael didn’t need to go to war. Why then was the census needed? Rav Shimshon Dovid Pinkus ztl. answers that indeed the Jewish people waged a major war upon receiving the Torah – it was the battle over Taava. The census was taken in order to be able to assess the nation’s strength and in order to impress on every soldier (e.g. every Jew) that he is a critical component in the ultimate war between good and evil.
To the children of Yosef, to Efrayim (1:32) – The Ramban comments that Efraim precedes Menashe when we speak about the encampment of Bnei Yisrael even though when we talk about receiving the portion in Eretz Yisrael, Menashe precedes. Rav Schachter Shlita pointed out that while Menashe was an askan, Efraim was dedicated to the study of Torah. Thus, Menashe does not lose out on his reward but Efraim precedes him due to his Torah supremacy. When we discuss who take a portion in the encampment first, which is a discussion about who would be closer to Moshe Rabbeinu, Efraim precedes. After all, he was the bigger Torah Scholar and implicitly more spiritual. However, when receiving a portion in the land, which was a matter of Tzorchei Tzibbur, the tribe of Menashe took precedence since it was a matter of communal contribution.
And you should establish the Leviim as agents in charge of the Mishkan (1:50) – Why was Moshe told to establish the Leviim before he was told to count them? Rav Chaim Kanievski Shlita explains that the census of Leviim is quite small in comparison to the census of the rest of Bnei Yisrael. This is due to the fact that they didn’t work in Mitzrayim so they didn’t receive the Beracha of Kein Yirbeh V’Chein Yifrotz. Thus, the purpose in their census was different than the reason for the general census. Hashem declares the purpose of the Leviim – once they are separated for a new purpose, we need to know how many of them were there.
And this is the history of Aharon and Moshe (3:1) – Rashi explains that we learn that one who teaches his friend’s son Torah is treated as though he birthed him. The only problem is that Moshe taught Aaron’s sons on the same day he received the word of Hashem. Why is it as if he birthed him? Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro Ztl. explains that if the student accepts the teacher emphatically, then he is a mikabel – and it is as if the teacher “birthed” him.
And they shall guard the Mikdash (3:7) – What does the job of being a Shomer HaMikdash – or even a Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos – entail? Rav Zvi Sobolofsky Shlita notes that the job of Shmirah here was not to guard the mikdash but rather to declare the Mikdash as significant. (Think Buckingham palace guards – they are more ceremonial than protective) The same is true when discussing those who identify as a Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos – it is a declaration of the supremacy of Torah and Mitzvos in our lives.
Count the Leviim from the age of 30 days (3:15) – why are the Jews counted from 20 while everyone else is counted earlier? Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl notes that when Jews are counted, it is because they are taking their rightful place among the members of Am Yisroel – for the next generation in place of the current one. We do not know if the children will live up to the educational values of the parents until they are fully grown. Leviim are different. By being involved with the Mishkan directly, they are more likely to stick to the traditions of their parents.
Haftorah: And the number of Bnei Yisrael shall be like the sand that cannot be measured (Hosea 2:1) – On the one hand it sounds as if the number of Bnei Yisrael is finite and on the other hand, it sounds infinite. How can two opposing themes be presented in the same breath? Rav Shaul Yisraeli ztl. offers a powerful insight by noting that without a doubt the number of Jews in a census is indeed finite. However, when we follow the word of Hashem (Yoma 22b) our impact on the world even within those finite numbers – is infinite.