Leviticus – The Sequel?: B’midbar 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you seen any movie sequels that you felt were superior to the original film? Why do so many sequels fall short of expectations?

Even though we’ve started reading a new book of the Torah, there are many indications that the text has not moved on from the concerns of Leviticus:

The Pitch: “For the Lord had spoken to Moses, saying: Do not on any account enroll the tribe of Levi or take a census of them with the Israelites. You shall put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it; and they shall camp around the Tabernacle. When the Tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the Tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up; any outsider who encroaches shall be put to death.” – Numbers 1:48-51

Swing #1: “These verses describe the appointment of the Levites as the aristocrats of the tabernacle of testimony – the nobles and counts, one might say – for all time. Later in the Bible, the Levites will become the administrative arm of the kingdom of David, and will be counted as part of the loyalist core of the Davidic and Solomonic administrations. Indeed, in every biblical society that has passed through the first two stages – census and assignment, or counting and accountability – there evolves a third stage, namely the administrative bureaucracy of managers and accountants.” – Avraham Burg, Very Near To You: Human Readings of the Torah

Swing #2: “The obvious sense of the verb is ‘to appoint’ or ‘to install,’ but the Hebrew puns on the term paqad used for the census, recasting it here in the causative conjugation: you are not to reckon the Levites, but instead you must make them reckon with the Tabernacle, confer upon them the responsibility of its maintenance. The emphasis on the central role of the Levites will continue through much of the Book of Numbers.” – Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #3: “The Midrash explains that God does not need the light of the candelabra, but He wanted us to provide that light in the tabernacle so that He in turn could provide a great light for us in the world of the future. God also wishes to demonstrate to mankind at large that those who kindle lights for Him, deserve to have Him light the way for them. … The leaders of the people especially, need visible reminders of that. Therefore, leaders, i.e. Levites were encamped around the tabernacle.” – Akeidat Yitzhak

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators believe that the Book of Numbers continues talking about Levites? Does the book simply have the wrong title, or do book titles not matter as much as we think they do? Is this similar to the fact that one of the Five Books of Moses never mentions Moses? Should a title summarize the work, or should it simply invite us to look inside?

On-Deck at TBT: We’re getting close to our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, a time to hear from leaders and teachers throughout Jewish Buffalo as we celebrate the anniversary of the encounter at Mount Sinai. Join us through the night of Thursday, May 25th-Friday, May 26th, concluding with a sunrise service and breakfast.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of strange names, both the New York (now San Francisco) Giants and the New York Mets once played their home games at a Manhattan stadium called the Polo Grounds. Hopefully, their fans knew what sport to expect when they bought tickets to the games.

Shabbat Shalom!