Bamidbar (Numbers)

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The Book Numbers or Sefer Bamidbar is the fourth book of the Tanach and the fourth book of the Torah. The Hebrew name is taken from first verse where it states “The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert.” Bamidbar means “in the wilderness” and refers to Mount Sinai. The English title Numbers is derived from the Greek of the Septuagint, referencing the numbering of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai and later on the plain of Moab.

This book may be divided into three parts:

  1. The numbering of the people at Sinai, and preparations for resuming their march (1–10:10).
  2. An account of the journey from Sinai to Moab, the sending out of the spies and the report they brought back, and the murmurings (eight times) of the people at the hardships by the way (10:11–21:20).
  3. The transactions in the plain of Moab before crossing the Jordan River (21:21–36).

The period of time extends from the second month of the second year, as measured from the Exodus, to the beginning of the eleventh month of the fortieth year, in all about thirty-seven years and nine months.

Numbering of the People

In chapter one, we see that God ordered Moses to count the number of those able to bear arms – all men from twenty years old and up – with the exception of the Tribe of Levi who are assigned exclusively to the service of the Mishkan. Moses is also commanded to appoint princes over each tribe. The resulting number of those able to bear arms is 603,550 men.

Chapter two shows that God commanded that the camp be formatted around the Mishkan with each tribe being distinguished by its banner. This same order is preserved on the march in the Wilderness.

Chapter three explains the death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu. Moses was ordered to consecrate the Levites for service in the Mishkan as a replacement for the first-born sons who had – until that point – performed the service. The Levites were divided into three families – Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites – and numbered.

In chapter four, the numbering of the Levites suitable for service in the Mishkan – from ages 30 to 50 was performed. The Levites were instructed how to prepare and carry the material of the Mishkan for their journeys.

Chapters five and six concern themselves with the ordinances and laws concerning lepers and other unclean persons, reparations for common sins, ordinances concerning an unfaithful wife, the laws of the Nazarite, and the formal blessing of the people.

Chapter seven is about the offering of the princes of the twelve tribes at the altar dedication.

Chapter eight involves the lighting of the menorah. This chapter also discusses the consecration of the Levites and their terms of service.

Chapter nine speaks of the deferred Pesach sacrifices and the cloud that directed the journey of the Children of Israel.

The Journey from Sinai to Moab

In chapter ten Moses was ordered to make two silver trumpets to be used for calling the congregation and announcing the recommencement of the journey as well as other occasional uses of the trumpets. The first journey of the Children of Israel after the construction of the Mishkan is discussed and Moses appoints Hobab to be their leader.

In chapter eleven the people murmured against God and were punished. Moses complained of the people’s stubbornness and is ordered by God to choose 70 elders to assist him in governing the Children of Israel. This chapter also discusses the account of Eldad and Medad, the shower of quails, and the epidemic of Kibrot-hattaavah.

Chapter twelve involves the slander of Miriam and Aaron against Moses at Hazerot. Miriam was punished with leprosy for seven days, after which the Children of Israel proceeded to the wilderness of Paran.

Chapters thirteen and fourteen discuss the twelve spies and the outcome of their mission.

Chapters 15-16 cover the ordinances to be observed in Eretz Yisrael, different kinds of offerings, atonement for involuntary sins, tzitzit, and the rebellion and punishment of Korah and his followers.

In chapter 17 Moses was ordered to make plates to cover the altar. The Children of Israel complained about the death of Korah’s men and they are stricken with the plague. The story of Aaron’s rod is also told.

Chapters 18-19 are concerned with Aaron and his family being declared by God to be eternally responsible for the sanctuary. The Levites are appointed again to help Aaron and his descendents in the Miskhan. The laws regarding tithes are given and the law of the red heifer is also given.

Chapter 20 speaks about the Children of Israel blaming Moses for the lack of water. God ordered Moses to speak to a rock to bring forth water for the people. However, Moses becomes angry and strikes the rock – thus disobeying God’s orders. Due to this disobedience, Moses was told that he would not enter the Promised Land. The King of Edom refused permission to the people to pass through his land. Aaron died on Mount Hor.

Chapter 21 is about the defeat of King Arad the Canaanite; the Children of Israel being punished by snake bites for speaking out against Moses and God; the wandering of the people before reaching the valley of Moab; and, the battles with Sihon and Og.

The Transactions In the Plain of Moab

Chapters 22-24 contain the stories of Balak and Bilam.

In chapter 25 we see that the Children of Israel encamped at Shittim and committed abominations with the daughters of Moab as well as joining Baal-peor. A plague kills 24,000 of the people. It is also in this chapter we see that Phineas killed Zimri.

In chapter 26 a new census was taken and the decree was made that Eretz Yisrael would be divided by lot.

Chapter 27 contains the story of the daughters of Zelophehad and the appointment of Joshua by Moses as his successor.

Chapters 28-29 describe the ordinances surrounding the observance of the feasts as well as laws about the offerings for different feasts, daily observances, Shabbat, and various other occasions.

Chapter 30 describes the laws concerning vows of men, married women, and unmarried women.

Chapter 31 talks about the conquest of Midian by the Children of Israel.

In chapter 32 we see the request of the Tribe of Reuben and Gad to assign to them the land east of the Jordan with the promise that they would assist in the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. The land east of the Jordan is divided among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh.

Chapter 33 speaks of the various encampments of the Children of Israel during the wanderings in the wilderness. The Children of Israel, while encamped in the plains of Moab, were told that after crossing the Jordan, they were to expel the Canaanites and destroy all their idols.

Chapter 34 describes the boundaries of the land which the Children of Israel are to take possession. The land was to be divided under the supervision of the Eleazar, Joshua, and a leader from each of the tribes.

Chapters 35-36 talk about the 48 cities assigned to the Levites and the six cities of refuge. Laws concerning murder and the cities of refuge and laws of female inheritance were also given.

Sefer Bamidbar (בּמדבר) is divided into the following Parshiot

Bamidbar (1:1-4:20) – (In the Wilderness):
Haftorah: Hosea 2:1-22 (Ashkenazi); Hosea 2:1-22 (Sephardi)
1:1-3: Census in the Wilderness 3:1-4: The progeny of Moses and Aaron
1:4-43: The tribal leaders 3:5-10: Appointment of the Levites
1:44-46: The total 3:11-13: The Levites replace the firstborn
1:47-54: The Levites 3:14-20: Census of the Levites
2:1-2: The four formations 3:21-26: Gershon
2:3-9: Judah’s encampment—to the east 3:27-32: Kohath
2:10-17: Reuben’s encampment—to the south 3:33-39: Merari
2:18-24: Ephraim’s encampment—to the west 3:40-51: The Israelite firstborn are redeemed
2:25-31: and Dan’s encampment—to the north 4:1-16: The Kohathites’ responsibilities
2:32-34: The total 4:17-20: Special precautions for the Kohathites

 

Naso (4:21-7:89) – (Lift Up):
Haftorah: Judges 13:2-25 (Ashkenazi); Judges 13:2-25 (Sephardi)
4:21-28: The Gershonites responsibilities 5:23-31: The scroll
4:29-37: The Merarites’ responsibilities 6:1-8: The Nazirite
4:38-49: The totals 6:9-12: Sudden contamination
5:1-4: Purification of the camp 6:13-21: Completion of the term
5:5-10: Theft from a Jew and from a proselyte 6:22-27: The Priestly Blessings
5:11-14: Sotah/the wayward wife 7:1-83: The offerings of the tribal leaders
5:15: The meal offering of jealousies 7:84-88: The total
5:16-18: Confession 7:89: Moses enters the Tabernacle
5:19-22: The oath

 

Beha’alotcha (8:1-12:16) – (When You Set Up):
Haftorah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7 (Ashkenazi); Zechariah 2:14-4:7 (Sephardi)
8:1-4: The Menorah 10:35-36: The Ark goes forth
8:5-22: Consecration of the Levites 11:1-3: The complainers
8:23-26: Apprenticeship and responsibility 11:4-10: Dissatisfaction with the manna
9:1-5: The Pesach offering in the Wilderness 11:11-15: Moses’ despair
9:6-14: Pesach sheni/The second Pesach offering 11:16-17: The Sanhedrin
9:15-23: Divine signs of the Israelites’ travels 11:18-23: G-d responds to the people
10:1-9: The Trumpets 11:24-29: New prophets
10:10-28: The order of breaking camp 11:30-35: The quail
10:29-32: Moses invites Jethro to join the nation 12:1-13: Moses’ uniqueness is challenged and affirmed
10:33-34: The first journey 12:14-16: Miriam is quarantined

 

Shelach (13:1-15:41) – (Send):
Haftorah: Joshua 2:1-24 (Ashkenazi); Joshua 2:1-24 (Sephardi)
13:1-15: The command to send spies to Eretz Yisrael 14:26-39: G-d spells out the decree
13:16-26: Moses prays for Joshua 14:40-45: A chastized nation realizes too late
13:27-30: The spies’ report 15:1-16: The libations
13:31-33: Caleb is shouted down 15:17-21: Challah
14:1-5: National hysteria 15:22-26: Atonement for public unintentional idol worship
14:6-10: The people cannot be placated 15:27-29: Atonement for individual idol worship
14:11-12: Israel is threatened with extermination 15:30-31: Atonement for intentional idolatry
14:13-19: Moses pleads for the people 15:32-36: Atonement for Shabbat desecration
14:20-25: The decree of wandering 40 years 15:37-41: Command of tzitzit

 

Korach (16:1-18:32) – (Korach):
Haftorah: I Samuel 11:14-12:22 (Ashkenazi); I Samuel 11:14-12:22 (Sephardi)
16:1-11: Rebellion in the Wilderness 17:15-26: A new proof of Aaron’s greatness
16:12-19: Moses summons Dathan and Abiram 17:27-28: The fears remain
16:20-30: G-d responds 18:1-7: Aaron’s duty reiterated
16:31-35: G-d creates a phenomenon 18:8-20: Gifts to the Kohanim
17:1-8: Protest and confirmation 18:21-32: Tithes to the Levites
17:9-14: Moses intervenes again

 

Chukat (19:1-22:1) – (Decree):
Haftorah: Judges 11:1-33 (Ashkenazi); Judges 11:1-33 (Sephardi)
19:1-22: The Red Cow 20:27-29: Aaron’s death and Elazar’s ascension
20:1-3: Miriam’s death and the lack of water 21:1-4: Amalek attacks
20:4-5: The people protest 21:5-13: A new challenge
20:6-8: G-d commands Moses to bring water 21:14-20: The song in the Book of the Wars of God
20:9-13: Moses and Aaron err and are punished 21:21-32: The battle with Sihon
20:14-21: Asking permission for travel from Edom 21:33-35: Og does battle
20:22-26: Arrival at Mount Hor

 

Balak (22:2-25:9) – (Balak):
Haftorah: Micah 5:6-6:8 (Ashkenazi); Micah 5:6-6:8 (Sephardi)
22:2-19: Balaam 23:11-17: Balak’s anger
22:20-22: G-d’s ambiguous permission 23:18-24: Balaam’s second blessing
22:23-27: G-d impedes Balaam’s path 23:25-30: Balak’s anger and further request
22:28-30: Balaam’s she-donkey speaks 24:1-9: Balaam’s third blessing
22:31-35: Balaam sees the angel 24:10-13: Balak’s renewed anger
22:36-41: Balak’s rebuke 24:14-25 Balaam’s last prophecy
23:1-6: Balaam’s altar offerings 25:1-6: Baalam’s plot
23:7-10: Balaam’s first blessing 25:7-9: Phinehas’ zealotry

 

Pinchas (25:10-30:1) – (Phineas):
Haftorah: Before 17 Tammuz: I Kings 18:46-19:21, After 17 Tammuz: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Ashkenazi);
Before 17 Tammuz: I Kings 18:46-19:21, After 17 Tammuz: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Sephardi)
25:10-15: Phinehas’ zealotry 28:9: The mussaf offerings
25:16-18: A new attitude toward Midian 28:10: Sabbath
26:1-50: The new census 28:11-15: Rosh Chodesh
26:51-56: The census total 28:16-25: Pesach
26:57-65: The count of the Levites 28:26-31: Shavuot
27:1-5: The grievance of Zelophehad’s daughters 29:1-6: Rosh Hashanah
27:6-11: Laws of inheritance 29:7-11: Yom Kippur
27:12-14: G-d shows Moses the Land 29:12-34: Succot
27:15-23: Moses asks for a successor 29:35-30:1 Shemini Atzeret
28:1-8: The Tamid

 

Mattot (30:2-32:42) – (Tribes):
Haftorah: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Sephardi)
30:2-17: Vows and oaths 31:42-47: The people’s share
31:1-12: The battle against Midian 31:48-54: The commanders
31:13-20: Moses rebukes the officers 32:1-5: The request of Reuben and Gad
31:21-24: Laws of koshering utensils 32:6-15: Moses’ objection
31:25-28: Division of the spoils 32:16-19: The request is clarified
31:29-35: Kohanim and Levites 32:20-32: Moses’ condition
31:36-41: The soldiers’ share 32:33-42: The inheritance of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh

 

Masei (33:1-36:13) – (Journeys):
Haftorah: Jeremiah 2:4-28; 3:4 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 2:4-28; 4:1-2 (Sephardi)
33:1-49: Summary of the journey 35:9-15: Cities of refuge for unintentional murder
33:50-56: Occupying the Land 35:16-21: Intentional murder
34:1-15: The boundaries of Eretz Yisrael 35:22-34: Unintentional murder
34:16-29: The leadership 36:1-13: Tribal intermarriage
35:1-8: Cities for the Levites