A Census Following Plague
Last week, God sent a plague to punish the Israelites for sinning in Shittim in the plains of Moab. The plague only ended when Phineas, grandson of Aaron, killed Zimri, an Israelite man who was sinning and Cozbi, the Midianite woman with whom he was sinning. In our portion, God blesses Phineas for his actions, granting him an eternal priesthood and a covenant of peace.
The Israel Bible points to the seeming irony of Phineas’s blessing: for an act of violence, he is rewarded with peace. From here we learn a valuable lesson. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Wrongs must be righted. Only where there is truth and justice can peace prevail.
Following the plague, God orders a new census be taken, counting the people over the age of twenty by tribal and familial affiliation. Reuben numbers 43,730; Gad, 40,500; Simeon, 22,200; Judah, 76,500; Issachar, 64,300; Zebulun, 60,500; Manasseh, 52,700; Ephraim, 32,500; Benjamin, 45,600; Dan, 64,400; Asher, 53,400; and Naphtali, 45,400. All told, the Israelites number 601,730. To these, God promises a share in the Promised Land.
The Levites are counted separately, numbering 23,000 males over one month of age. They are not to receive a portion of the land as an inheritance.
The Torah tells us that not one of those counted, besides Joshua and Caleb, was of age during the Sin of the Spies, thus signalling the completion of the punishment God set at that time. As the Israel Bible points out, now is the perfect time to take a census to assess the size of the army that will go forth to conquer the Holy Land as well as determine how that land will be divided.
Virtual Classroom Discussion
Why do you think the identities of the sinners are only revealed here, after the story ends, and not when they are introduced in last week’s portion?