Does the Torah Argue that Israel Needs a Military?

Dear Rabbi,
During my school years from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, my grades were good enough to allow me to go on to college and in fact those grade basically gave me a free ride in the sense that I did not have to pay any tuition until I went on to law school and even then I was the recipient of a scholarship because of the grades I received through my years from elementary through high school. If you really wanted to break down my grade point average, I owed a great deal of it to my marks in the field of mathematics.
Math, to me, was easy because it was precise. If you added up numbers or followed a certain formula, you received a correct answer. Learning to add the numbers or memorize a certain formula was not difficult to me. All that being said, I enjoyed the “unknown” in the sense of having to think of why things occurred and this led me away from any thought of pursuing a career as it related to math and I went on to become a lawyer. The results of my decision are for my clients to determine.
In our Biblical journey, we are now up to the Fourth Book of Moses, Numbers. We start out with Bahmidbar, which is all about numbers. For the most part, it is straight forward. In the First Aliyah, G-d commands Moses to count all of the men of the various tribes for the purpose of determining those that can serve in the military. In Numbers chapter 1:21, we learn the Tribe of Reuben totals 46,500; in 23, Simeon’s tribe totals 59,300; in 25, Gad’s tribe is 45,650; in 27, Judah’s tribe is 74,600; in 29  Issachar there are 54,400; in 31, Zebyulun’s tribe amounts to 57,400; in 33, Ephrain’s tribe comes to 40,500; in 35, Manasseh’s tribe comes to 32,200; in 37, Benjamin’s tribe comes to 35,400; in 39, Dan’s tribe comes in at 62,700; in 41, Asher’s tribe amounts to 41,500; and finally in 43, we learn that Naphtali’s tribe amounts to 53,400.  This is all added up for us in Numbers 1:46 to come to 603,550. Dusting off my old addition skills, I totaled all of the numbers and it is correct.
I will leave the aliyahs from Two through Four for you to explain as to military maneuvers, flags and the like and jump to the Fifth Aliyah where G-d commands Moses to take a separate count of the male Levites, where the following ensues: according to Numbers chapter 3:22 the Gershon family amounts to 7,500; in 28, the Kohath family comes to 8,600; and finally in 34, the Merari family is counted to be 6,200. Here is where this becomes interesting. According to Numbers chapter 3:39, the grand total of the Levite males is 22,000. Again, dusting off my old addition skills, I come to a total of 22,300. I would be willing to bet that given the disproportionate amount of Jews that become accountants, it stemmed from our ancestors in the desert’s proclivity towards math, so how do you explain this error in arithmetic? Like I said above, I like the unknown, which generally does not coincide with mathematics.
This gets even more curious by what occurs next. G-d tells Moses to count up the first born because there is going to be a switch from them to the Levites in terms of who is to be devoted to the Lord, because of the involvement of the first born with the “Golden Calf” incident. So in the Sixth Aliyah, Numbers chapter 3:43 we are told the number of first born males is 22,273. Doing the math, in chapter 3:46 there is an overage of first born to Levites of 273, which is correct if the total number of Levites is 22,000 but again I ask if you add up the sum of all the Levite families, I get the number of 22,300 which would then be more than the 22,273 counted by Moses.
In a sense, there is a further miscalculation in that G-d then orders the first born overage of 273 to pay a five shekel payment to redeem themselves from further involvement. If there was a tax attorney present, might not he or she have an argument that it was the Levites that had to pay for the 27 that they seem to have over the first born in order to take on the privilege of the Almighty declaring that the Levites, as opposed to the first born, are his?
While I am in a questioning mood and given I am writing this on Mother’s Day, why is G-d directing that only males be counted. This could be taken both literally and figuratively. The translation from the Hebrew to the English, conflates the “children” of Israel with males. Then in the First Aliyah, it is G-d that chooses the leaders of the various tribes and they are all males. Going on to the Third Aliyah, the reference to these leaders is that of a “prince”. I know that you will come back with a comment along the lines of “you must understand that when the Torah was written, there was basically only a patriarchal society”, but should not G-d have understood that there was a basic inequality in all of this and should have put an end to it, through his dictations to Moses, in what amounts to the Book we look at for guidance?


Dear Mordecai,
Let me make sure I understand you correctly. The total of Levites as stated by the Torah is 22,000, but when you add up Gershon, Kohath, and Merari’s families, you actually get 22,300. You ask why this discrepancy of 300. The problem is compounded because the Levites are to replace the first-born, but the first born’s total is 22,273. Regardless of which total of Levites you select this doesn’t match the total of first-born.
Perhaps some of the discrepancy comes from the overlap of people who are both first born and Levites.
As for why the Torah did not consider men and women equal, the answer is that the Torah works through evolution rather than revolution. It does not try to overcome human nature. It seeks to work with human nature and gradually ameliorate the situation of women and slaves, for example. We, who live in an age of revolution, might find this evolutionary approach unappealing, but I think that working with human nature is evidence of the Torah’s wisdom not its accommodation to injustice.
The primary message that I get from this week’s parsha is the importance of a military, and in light of this week’s events in Jerusalem, the Jews having a military seems as important as ever.

Dear Rabbi,

As to numbers, the last time I calculated 22,300 (the actual count of the Levites, if you go by the numbers contained in this week's parshah), it is more than 22,273, which is what we see as the count of the first born. Further, the way I discern this week's account, the Levites were counted separately from everyone else, so your explanation does not relate to what I read. You are right in the conclusion that the the number of Levites does not match the number of the first born, but the "penalty" heaped upon the first born in the form of a five shekel "tax" is not fair given that the Levites outnumbered the first born, not the other way around. The relevance as to the number may not be great but the concept of G-d not correcting a mistake, seems to give me pause. 

As I understand our religion G-d is omniscient. If that is so why could the Almighty not correct the numerical mistake, or more importantly, foresee the folly of not allowing women a "seat at the table" from the beginning of of our religious journey. It seems to me that the "evolution" of the Torah is not accepted by certain sects of our religion to the point that it is almost  considered a "sin" for a woman to even read the Torah. I would venture to say that having a conversation with the Ultra Orthodox about the "equality of women" in religious affairs is still a "revolutionary" thought. 

As I stated in my opening remarks, I leave the middle portions of this week's parshah for you to explain, and no one is going to debate the need for a strong Jewish military presence, but again, have the Orthodox skipped over these sections of the Torah as well? Go ask those that serve in the Israeli armed forces what they think of the Orthodox that chose not to submit to what should be the sacred duty of all Jews living in Israel and voting in its elections. It seems completely disingenuous to me to see the Orthodox praying at the Wall yet trying to prevent those they do not consider "religious" enough to also pray, and the the thought of a woman praying next to a man would probably lead to physical confrontation. Further, they demand to be protected by the military so that they can pray at our most holy site, without wanting to participate in protecting the State of Israel from attack.