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:
- The numbering of the people at Sinai, and preparations for resuming their march (1–10:10).
- 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).
- 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|