Who Gets Drafted? | Bamidbar 5784

Sefer Bamidbar begins with a census of the Jewish People. This is not the first time the Jewish People were counted. Earlier, in Parshas Ki Sisa, there was also a census.

So why count the Jewish People again?

Rashi explains that God repeatedly counted the Jewish People in order to show his love for them. We count what is beloved.

But does this really explain why the Jewish People are being counted so often? I would understand why Kate McCallister, after losing her son Kevin in two separate movies, would need to constantly count her children, but surely there is another way for God to show how precious each and every member of the Jewish People is.

The Ramban, however, suggests a different reason for the counting: they were preparing for war. As they approached the Land of Israel, the Jewish People were preparing for the wars needed to conquer the land. So Moshe counted all the Jews of military age, those twenty years of age and older.

If, in fact, the point of the census was for military preparation, this may shed light on another anomaly within our parsha, namely the fact that the tribe of Levi was not counted.

As Rambam famously points out, the tribe of Levi was not required to participate in the wars of the Jewish People. They were exempted from the biblical draft. Most famously, Rambam extends this exemption to anyone who chooses to live as if they were a part of the tribe of Levi, by dedicating their entire lives to the study of Torah.

Is the tribe of Levi, in fact, exempt from war? And what was the purpose of this exemption?

To understand this let’s explore the contentious history of Israel’s draft exemption for those studying in yeshiva.

Read the rest on Substack, and listen to the full shiur above!