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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
Parshas Bamidbar commences with the tziva from Hashem to once again take a census of Bnei Yisroel. (Bamidbar 1:2) Hashem is very explicit that the census is to be taken “according to their families and according to their father’s household”. (1:2) The Torah then recites the tally for each family (except Shevet Levi, who was excluded from the count) (1:48) reaching a total of 603,550 (1:46). This stands in stark contrast to the census taken in Parshas P’kudei where the tally was taken of the entire B’nei Yisroel, without any regard to the amount in each particular Shevet. (Pikudei, 38:26)
This raises two significant questions. First, why are we doing another census so close to when the last one was done? Second, why in the 2nd census are we commanded to break out the amount of people in each Shevet, where this was not commanded the first time? The major significant event, which took place between the two counts, was the building, completion and dedication of the Mishkan. It was this transforming event which was the reason for the recount and why it was done by family the second time.
Prior to the completion of the Mishkan, there existed among the Shevatim a certain competitiveness and even jealousy exhibited under certain circumstances. Consider the selling of Yoseph, the need to separate Shimon and Levi, the marginalizing of the Bnei Bilha and Zilpa, the loss of the Bechora from Reuven and the assumption of leadership by Yehuda. Many of these issues were the result of good intentions but nevertheless resulted in divisiveness. It was no wonder – each Shevet was endowed with unique strengths and weaknesses. Human nature dictated that each attempted to use their talents to the utmost and bask in their prominence. This was precisely the reason why the census in P’kudei did not go by family, to emphasize the need for unity – that Klal Yisroel is best served by each Shevet bringing their individual Kochos to the collective. Only by Shevet Levi leading, B’tzalel from Shevet Yehuda designated as the lead builder with Ahaliyav from Shevet Dan assisting, and everyone contributing gold and silver could the Mishkan come to fruition.
Once this grand accomplishment was in place, every Shevet was able to appreciate the special role and contribution they made to the greater whole. At this point there was no longer a need to emphasize unity, they had already come to appreciate it on their own, through their own efforts. On the contrary, now that the Mishkan was present, everyone realized their unique place. No conceit was caused by enumerating the count of the individual Shevatim.
Klal Yisroel learned in the Midbar that every Shevet and every individual was valuable and contributed to the greatness of the Am. Simply put, we are not and were never intended to all be the same. Rather, we all have what to contribute in filling the various roles necessary for a functioning society unified in their Avodas Hashem. That’s a message quite worthy of reviewing.