This Parsha could be called Parshat Census. It gives a complete numerical accounting of all of the tribes with the exception of the Levites. Maybe that’s why the English word for Bamidbar (literally, ‘in the desert’) is… numbers!
The original plan was for the Bechor (first born male) to serve in the Mishkan/Beit Hamikdash as the designated priests. According to the Maharal of Prague, there is a special holiness in being the first, since God Himself is the first being.
However the sin of the Golden Calf changed everything. When Moshe descended from Har Sinai and smashed the Luchos (tablets) he gave an ultimatum; they had to choose between God and the idol. Only the tribe of Levi stepped forward to side with Hashem. (Shemot 32:26) As a result, the male first borns lost their priestly status and God decreed that only the Levites would be the ‘Kohanim’ – priests.
In Parshat Bamidbar we see the source of the mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen (redemption of the son).
Bamidbar/Numbers 3:47-48 you shall take five shekels per head, according to the holy shekel, by which the shekel is twenty gerahs. You shall give the money to Aaron and his sons, in redemption for the firstborns who are in excess of them.
It is a rare ritual where the first born male is redeemed with five coins of silver from his previous obligation to serve G0d. Another purpose of this mitzvah is to remind us of the Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) and the final of the ten plagues when God killed the first born of the Egyptians but spared the first born sons of the Israelites. Another reason is to remind us that our love and appreciation for the first born is so great yet everything that is given to us comes from God.
Root Vegetable ‘Shekels’ (adapted from my mom’s recipe)
- 1 lb. small potatoes
- 2 lb. sweet potatoes
- 1 large carrot (I found super fat ones in Chinatown)
- 2 parsnips
- 1/2 lb rutanbaga
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon Italian spices
- fresh chives, chopped, (optional, but they look great)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Cut all the vegetables into ‘coins’ that are approximately 1/2 inch thick. Toss all ingredients together and bake at 425 degrees for 45-55 minutes.