Eli Revzen’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: Bamidbar

Eli and his friend Otto, shown working on their mitzvah project in the Shelly Volk Memorial Garden

Shabbat shalom. Today I just read from chapter one of the book of Bamidbar, and my parasha is also called Bamidbar. A parasha is like a few chapters smushed together by topic in the torah.

My parasha describes the events that took place a little over a year after the Israelites left Egypt. While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God told Moses to count the Israelites. Every Israelite man capable of bearing arms was counted.

There ended up being 603,550 men total counted in the census. However, God told Moses not to include the Levites in the census, nor have them dwelling among and counted with the rest of Israelites.

The Levites’ duty was serving the Tabernacle, and when the Israelites travelled, the Levites were to dismantle the Tabernacle and reassemble it in the new encampment. If any outsider came near the Tabernacle, they were to be put to death.

Finally, the Israelite tribes were commanded to camp each under their own standard. The children of Israel were good this time and actually listened to Moses’s decree in the name of God, so they were counted and there was no divine wrath.

What was the point of a census being taken at this time? Because the census counted only the men who could bear arms, it seems like what was happening was the Israelites were building an army.

Why was God thinking about building an army at this point in time? Well, it makes sense after what happened at Rephidim, which I’ll tell you about later. God probably wanted to have the chosen people safe so god told Moses to count them to create an army.

The question for me, the big question in this parasha is if Moses was counted in the census. The question seems small, but the implications are big. If Moses was counted, it would mean that he was one of the people, thus equal in value to the average Israelite man. If Moses was not counted it might hint that he was above the people, because he was closer to God.
Did Moses count himself in the census?

If he was counted then he was going to be an active participant in a militia, and in this case he’d be sharing the risks with the Israelites when going to war. If he wasn’t counted then he would have had others risking themselves for him.

Since the point of the census was to build an army, I think that Moses probably wouldn’t have been a part of the census. Since Moses was the leader, if he were to die in battle the proverbial snake would be headless. Also, we can assume he was fairly old at the time, thus probably not fit to bear arms.

Another Speculation
We can speculate about the answer to this question based on an earlier story in the Torah, the story of Rephidim, and yes I’ll tell you about it very soon, but right now I’m procrastinating. In the Book of Exodus, Moses and the Israelites fight the Amalekites at Rephidim; during the battle Moses gives power to the warriors fighting in the battle.

Since I said I’ll tell you about what happened at Rephidim: The Israelites were attacked by the people of Amalek two months after they left Egypt. So Moses had a rag-tag team go and do battle with the Amalekites. During the battle, when Moses raised his hands, the Israelites prevailed, and when he lowered his hands the Amalekites prevailed. The Israelites were winning for a time, but Moses’ hands grew heavy. Why, is it because that standing for hours on end with your hands up isn’t everyone’s favorite pastime? So Moses then sat on a rock while Aaron and Hur held his hands up for him. And like this his hands were up till sunset. Then it says Joshua (who was probably in charge of the rag-tag team) overwhelmed the Amalekites by the sword.

The story of the battle at Rephidim is an example of what Moses once did to aid the soldiers of Israel. In the battle of Rephidim the soldiers were obviously in jeopardy. But the question is, was Moses? Did he put himself in jeopardy by raising his hands? If not, was it ethical for him to put others’ lives in danger without sharing the risk with them?

Contemporary example
A good contemporary example of different risk levels between a person in charge and the common man is modern industry. A manager of a steel plant is almost never at risk of getting burned, yet the workers are. In this case the manager is like Moses and probably not at risk, but the workers are. The question is is it ethical for a manager to not endanger themself in same way as the common worker. Sometimes this is the only way, if the job involves skills that the manager doesn’t have for example, using heavy machinery and the like.

This topic is very complex and each situation has its own answer so it’s impossible to give a yes this is okay or no don’t do that answer. As consumers of products made by such an industry we are part of this chain. While inside a system it’s very hard to pass a judgment on the ethics of that system. One of the reasons this is very hard is because when you are passing that judgment you’re also judging yourself which makes it difficult not to be biased.

To end my dvar torah I will ask you the Cahal a question, and I’ll love to hear your answers.

Is it okay to have someone do something for you that involves risk without you sharing the risk with them?

Y’all have raised many good points but now it is coming closer to candy throwing time so I must wrap-up.
This dvar torah raises many more questions than answers, but that is how life is there are almost always more questions that come up the deeper you look.

Thank yous:
This enriching experience of having a bar mitzvah wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing support of many even more amazing people. First I have to thank my parents who made this all possible. Without their love and support this would never have happened. I’d also want to thank my relatives who traveled great distances to be here to support me. Next I have to thank Rabbi Ora, my tutor Lisa, and Deb Kraus who all taught me the skills necessary to be part of this truly enjoyable event. Last but not least I have to thank you all for being such a cooperative Cahal and as a thanks to all of you, my family and I have made a feast for all of you to enjoy. Shabbat shalom and have a great shabbat with your friends and family.