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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

On Nationalism and Sanctity – part III

Rabbi Yossef CarmelShvat 15 5780
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We saw in the previous installments that it is not simple to understand the connection between the ill-fated census that King David undertook and the choosing of the silo of Aravna the Yevusi as the place for the altar that turned into the place of the Beit Hamikdash. We will take our next steps on the topic by looking into the contexts of the various censuses that we have found throughout Tanach.

In our days, censuses include all citizens – men, women, and children. However, in the Torah, the count is only of adult men, from the age of twenty and above. In Parashat Ki Tisa, where the proper way to count is spelled out (Shemot 30:12-14), the process to be taken refers to those who "pass through the system of counting, from the age of twenty and above." It does not say there why this gender/age was important.

In Parashat Bamidbar (Bamidbar 1:1-3), in the context of a counting which Hashem asked for, a reason is alluded to. It says: "From twenty years and above, all those who go out to the army, should be counted …" In the second counting in Sefer Bamidbar (ibid. 26:4), again the cut-off point is twenty years old. Even later in the sefer (31:48), there is a report brought to Moshe that after the battle against Midian, there was a count of all of the participants in the battle, and no one was found missing.

The next counting was done by Yehoshua, again, as they were preparing to go to battle (Yehoshua 8:10-11). At the end of Sefer Shoftim, there is a count of the members of the Tribe of Binyamin, as they gathered to fight the other tribes. Shaul, as he prepared to go to war to save the people of Yavesh Gilad, "counted the people in Bezek, and Bnei Yisrael were 300,000 and the men of Yehuda were 30,000." Shaul counted the people again in Telaim, and found 200,000 along with 10,000 from Yehuda.

Further censuses were held at the time of Achav and his son, Yehoram (Melachim I, 20:14-15; Melachim II, 3:6-7). Here too the context was military (see Tzofnat Yeshayahu, p. 148).

Based on the above, it is not surprising that the ill-fated census done by David was carried out by his chief of staff and some of his officers. There too, it says that Yoav found "800,000 men holding swords" (Shmuel II, 24:9). Thus, we see that the reason for counting in the times of Tanach was to see how many soldiers the people had access to.

Next week we will explain what caused David to count the people and what caused him to have the people punished with a plague. May the People of Israel always measure things with a stress on the quality, not the quantity.
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