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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Pinchas

Parashat Pinchas

The Price of Being Counted

Rabbi Yossef Carmel21 Tammuz 5764
3145
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
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While discussing the rules of dividing up Eretz Yisrael and giving a partial list of families who were entering, the Torah makes a far-reaching statement. "Among these there was no man who was counted by Moshe and Aharon, the Kohen, who counted Bnei Yisrael in Midbar Sinai ... except Kalev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun" (Bamidbar 26:64-65). Although the statement appears all-encompassing, Chazal whittle away at it. Men were excluded, but women entered the Land (Rashi). Those who were above 60 or beneath 20 at the time of the Sin of the Spies were not included in the decree (Bava Batra 121b). Finally, the Tribe of Levi entered Eretz Yisrael irrespective of age (ibid.).

We can understand why those under 20 were spared from the decree. After all, at that age one is not fully responsible for his shortcomings (Rashi on Bereishit 23:1). But after the age of 60, when one is already at an age of leadership, he should be even more responsible, so why were the elders spared? How do we know about the Levi’im exception? There is empirical evidence (Aharon’s son, Elazar, is mentioned in Sefer Yehoshua). But beyond this, the gemara (ibid.) infers from the pasuk that says that the decree was "from 20 years old and above" (Bamidbar 14:29) that only those who were counted from the age of 20 were punished, not those who were counted from 30. One understanding is that the Levi’im were counted from the age of 30 days, as we find twice in Bamidbar (3:15; 26:62). However, the Rashbam (on Bava Batra 121b) proves that it refers to the later counting, from the age of 30 years (Bamidbar 4:46). One could claim that the numerical difference is a technical way for the Torah to hint that the Levi’im were excluded from the decree to perish in the desert. However, a more substantive possibility can explain all of the exceptions to the rule.

The age of being counted, above 20 (until 60, according to Rashbam, ibid.) was not by chance, but because they were "all who go out to the army in Israel." When the spies came back with a report that the Jewish soldiers would be overpowered by their Cana’anite enemies, all eyes turned, not to the elders, but to those who would be asked to fight. Did they have the guts and the belief in Hashem to fight? The Torah records the complaints of Bnei Yisrael at that time. "Why does Hashem bring us to this land to fall by the sword, our wives and children will be taken as spoils" (Bamidbar 14:3). Who would use that language? Not the wives, children, or the elders. Not the Levi’im, who did not fight, but served in the Mishkan and were counted according to their years of service (30 to 50). Rather, it was the prospective soldiers, expressing their fear of death in battle. As it was their task to show bravery and belief, they were the most harshly punished.

How grateful we should be to the Israeli soldier of recent history, who has responded to the challenge of facing formidable odds by rising up bravely in the spirit of Kalev.

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