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That which we think should happen — based on natural and logical assumptions — is not necessarily what will be. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Bamidbar” (Numbers 1:1-4:20) and, as its English name implies, there’s a lot about “numbers” in this book of the Torah which we begin reading this week, in general, and in this week’s reading in particular. This is the first post-Exodus national census that is undertaken with each tribe being counted.

The census included all those who were from the ages of 20 to 60. The tribe of Levi, was different, however. The Levites were not included in this census as they were counted separately. Furthermore, Levites from as young as one month old were included in the count.

It is noted, however, that even though the Levites were counted from 1 month old, rather than from the age of 20 like everyone else, there were only a mere 22,000 of them! And Levites between the ages of 30 to 50? Only 8,500 of them! Their numbers did not reach even half of the size of the next-smallest tribe!

It is explained that the discrepancy in the population of the Tribe of Levi was due to the fact that the Levites did not serve as slaves in Egypt. You read that correctly. No, not all Jews were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…the Levites were exempted from slavery due to their exalted status among the Jewish people and their religious leadership role.

Hmmm… But wait. One would think that those exempted from slavery would be more numerous than those who were forced to experience “back-breaking labor and embittered lives!”

Contrary to logic and intuition, however, God gave a special blessing to the Jewish slaves, as it says, “The more the Egyptians would afflict the Jews, the more they would increase and spread out.” [Ex. 1:12]. Our sages say that the Jewish slave women would give birth to six at a time. This helps explain the population discrepancy between the Levites and the other tribes. The Levites did not benefit from this blessing of fruitfulness and reproduction…because they weren’t slaves.

On a similar note, the second-most populous tribe was the tribe of Dan. Dan had a population count of 62,700 people. However, Dan, the patriarch of the tribe, had only one son, and that son was deaf. On the other hand, Benjamin for example, had 10 sons. One would certainly have thought that the tribe of Benjamin would become more populous than the tribe of Dan! But no.

There is an important lesson to be learned here: There are no guarantees in life – neither good nor bad. The two examples of our census discrepancies clearly show that what we assume will happen is not necessarily correct. There is no “natural order” to the world we live in. Everything is controlled and decided by God.

Yes, we need to work within the natural order of the world. Yes, we have to try our best. But ultimately, as the saying goes, “Man plans, but God laughs!”

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below.