The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l.
This article is dedicated in honor of the bris of Aryeh Leibish Efrayim Tzvi ben Chaim Yechezkel Halevi Fink.
Parshas Bamidbar begins with a command from Hashem to count bnei Yisrael in the second year in preparation of entering Eretz Yisrael. The census was to include all males that were of military age, twenty years. Moshe was commanded to count the tribes with the aid of the elders of the tribe. A consistent, two-verse format records the count for each tribe, stating the name of the tribe and the constraint that the census was limited to count going to battle on behalf of bnei Yisrael. The second verse presented the actual numeric count, introducing it with the word pekudeihem, their count. There is one departure from this format, Shevet Shimon. In the introductory verse to the census for tribe of Shimon, the Torah adds the word pekudei, his count. Why?
If we fast forward 38 years to Parshas Pinchas, The Torah records another census taken after the sin of the spies and the subsequent death of the generation of the exodus. The second census also served the purpose of counting the number of soldiers from each tribe, as well as providing the count that would be used to partition the land. In this census, the Torah groups the members of each tribe according to the children of Jacob’s sons. A consistent format is used here as well, where the last verse of each tribe’s census includes the word u’pekudeihem or l’pekudeihem. There is one exception: Shimon does not include either form of the word, the verse simply says these are the Shimoni families, totaling 22,200. Why is an extra pakod derivation included for Shimon in Parshas Bamidbar, yet omitted entirely in Parshas Pinchas?
I would like to offer the following answer based on ideas that the Rav mentioned in various shiurim. In the house of Jacob, Shimon and Levi were inseparable. The Torah describes their joint action against the city of Shechem and their hatred of Joseph. They were so linked, that after Joseph separated Shimon from Levi prior to sending his brothers back to Canaan, Levi is subsequently referred to as ha’echad, the one who remained, separated from his partner.
Over time, their relationship with each other and with Joseph changed. Levi, selected to serve in the Beis Hamikdash, and who also, through Miriam, was the ancestor of Jewish royalty, drifted closer to Joseph. He began to understand and appreciate Joseph’s significant role and mission in the unfolding drama of the formation of the Jewish people. The Rav noted that on the night of the redemption, when everyone was busy gathering gold, silver and precious articles from the Egyptians, Moshe is nowhere to be found. Where is he? Moshe is seeking the casket of Joseph. Why was Moshe so involved in this search? After all, Joseph had two sons, Menashe and Efrayim, who were now counted among the tribes of Israel. They should have taken the lead and responsibility to locate and retrieve Joseph’s bier.
Moshe and Shevet Levi had come to appreciate what Joseph did for bnei Yisrael. Without Joseph laying the foundation for them in Egypt, they never would have survived the exile spiritually intact. Joseph showed them that it was possible to remain committed to Hashem while participating in Egyptian society. He cared for them, fed them and due in large part to his dedication and self-sacrifice, the Jewish people blossomed in Egypt and ultimately left as a nation of 600,000 men above the age of 20 years. Moshe wanted to repay that debt and personally took responsibility for locating and retrieving Joseph, the highest honor that could be given. This demonstrated that the rift between Joseph and Levi was healed. Joshua, the grandson of Joseph, now became his inseparable disciple, in whom Moshe entrusted the transmission of the precious mesorah he received from Hashem.