A lot of counting occurs during last week’s Torah portion (Bamidbar) and our own (Nasa), and the question is, “why”?  In any case, a year later the populations were different, so what was the point of counting the number of each tribe and each family at any particular point in time?

Let’s step back a bit and ask another question: Why did the Jews have to travel in the desert?  While it is true that their sojourn in the desert was a punishment for the golden calf, still could they not have achieved the same thing by remaining in one place in the desert?  Why move around and make forty-two journeys?

Two things about the desert: 1) Nobody lives there  2) Nothing grows there.  However, as the Jews traveled through the desert, they transformed it into a place that became livable, and vegetation started to grow there.  With the help of the holy ark and the tablets within, the ground was leveled, and the desert blossomed.  While previously, the desert was a place of negative and destructive influences, the ark and the tablets neutralized the negative elements.  Specifically, it was the Levites, carrying the ark and tablets who performed the task of uplifting and transforming the desert.  That’s why it was necessary to count the Levites – they were the agents for change.

Every Jew is an agent for change in his own community and environment.  Wherever we find ourselves, we can find something that is like the desert, that is in need of rectification and elevation.  The power to perform the rectification and elevation comes from Above – we cannot do the job by ourselves, we need power and blessing from God.  And that’s why this week’s counting is couched in special terms in our parsha – Nasa – “lift up the the Levites.”  That is, don’t just count, but elevate and uplift the Levites.  In this way, the counting of the Levites uplifted them and gave them the power to elevate their environment as well.

There is a seder, or order to the process of uplifting your environment.  First, we must “run away” and escape from all that is bad and negative.  Only afterward can we embrace the positive aspects of our environment.  And we see this in the counting of the Levites as well. The oldest of the sons of Levi (though not the first to be counted) was Gershon.  His name comes from the word legaresh, meaning “to divorce, to drive away.”  Gershon symbolized the ability to drive away the negative aspects of our environment.  The name of the second son was Kehat, from the yikhat amim, or “gather together the nations.”  So, his affect on the world was positive and uplifting.  First, we must drive away the negative, then we may emphasize the positive.

Furthermore, we can see the relationship between Gershon and Kehat in their respective tasks.  Gershon’s job was to carry the curtains that covered the tabernacle, while the job of Kehat was to carry the vessels of the tabernacle.  The point of a curtain is to make separation, in order to prevent that which does not belong, from entering.  And the point of the vessels is to contain Godly light, to bring it down from above and channel it for the appropriate uses.  So, not only in the order of their birth and their names, but also in their respective tasks, we see that Gerson placed emphasis on “turning away from bad,” while the task of Kehat was “do good.”

The job of a Jew is the rectify and uplift his environment.  However, if we are not careful, we can be influenced by our environment such that it pulls us down, instead of the opposite. So, it is important for us to follow the example of the Levites in our parsha, who first cleaned out the bad and negative influences in their environment, and then set about refining and uplifting it.

For more details, go to

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: