Kenneth Cohen

In the Desert

The Keli Yakar paints an interesting picture relating to the backdrop of the Book of Bamidbar. This fourth book of the Torah describes the major events that took place while the Jewish people lived in the desert.

The history depicted began on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, in the beginning of the second year after the exodus from Egypt. The Jewish people had survived a tumultuous first year. They went from receiving the Torah, to sinning with the Golden Calf, and constructing the portable Beit Hamikdash, known as the Mishkan.

The first of Iyar began a period of relative calm, when the nation would settle into a regular routine.

The first order of business was to count the men over the age of 20, by way of the half shekel. The Levites were counted from the age of one month by way of a “Bat Kol,” or heavenly voice that told Moshe the number of Levites in each tent.

The numbers 600,000 of the Jewish army, and the 22,000 Leviim were significant on a more mystical level. The 600,000 was needed for the Divine Presence to rest on Israel. The 22,000 were the number of ministering angels in Heaven that needed a corresponding number to those who devoted their lives to serving in the Temple.

Moshe Rabbeinu was only able to enter the אבל מועד, Tent of Meeting, on the first of Iyar. The Clouds of Glory had blocked his entrance.

The Keli Yakar went on to explain that our bond with Hashem on Mount Sinai was like a marriage. The Jewish people were like the bride that was all adorned.

The first year of marriage had more or less come to an end. Now the Jews of the desert could fulfill their role as דור דיעה, “the generation of knowledge.” They would be spending most of their time studying the details of the Torah received on Sinai. Food and shelter was provided for them, and they would not be traveling again as they did in the first year, until their final year in the desert.

In the coming weeks, we will learn of the major events of the next 39 years. It wasn’t always smooth, but these events very much shaped our people.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at