Making things count במדבר

This week’s Parsha – Bamidbar, the first of the book of Bamidbar, describes the encampment of the Jewish nation in the desert, their numbers and their leaders. There is a command to count all of the children of Israel according to their tribes. The command to count is expressed in Hebrew as “S’u et Rosh” which literally translates as lift up the head, or in other words, count heads. The expression is used here as a double entendre. It can mean elevate the head, in the sense of elevating the person. One who is involved in Torah is elevated, and this expression of “elevating the head” reflects that. This is a census of a holy people, one that is elevated through fulfilling the will of the Creator.
But the expression “S’u et Rosh” can also mean to lift up the head in the sense of “off with his head!” This is the expression used when Pharoh had the baker executed in the story of Joseph in prison (Bereshit 40, 19) The implication is that one who is not worthy, that is not following the will of the Creator, will be removed. Instead of being counted in, he will be counted out.
The leaders of each of the twelve tribes are called the Nasi. This is from the same root as the word above, to elevate. The Nasi of each tribe was the elevated one. They are called the “designated ones”, which is an expression of them all being righteous. They are each the head of their tribe. Each one of them bring an impressive array of donations at the dedication of the Mizbeach. So important was their donation that the list of offerings is repeated twelve times, even though each Nasi brought identical items. But none of this was a guarantee that they would always remain righteous. The first Nasi mentioned is Elizur ben Shedeur, the Nasi of Reuven. Later in Bamidbar, in the rebellion of Korach, we are told that 250 important men (the Torah also uses the word Nasi there) join Korach in the rebellion. Rashi tells us that this is Elizur ben Shedeur and his friends. (ch. 17 v. 2) Here we see that his elevation is his downfall.
The next Nasi mentioned is of the tribe of Shimon, Shelumiel ben Tzurishadai. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 82b tells us that Shelumiel ben Tzurishadai is the same person as Zimri ben Solu, and the same as Shaul ben Hacanaanit. Zimri’s claim to shame is that he was caught cavorting with the Midianite princess. Pinchas ben Elazar caught the two of them in the act, and lifted them up on his spear for all to see. This act of elevation elevated Pinchas, and did just the opposite for Zimri a.k.a. Shelumiel. What is all the more remarkable, is that Shlumiel was no youngster at the time with the wild drives of youth. Since he was also the same person as Shaul ben Hacanaanit, according the the Talmud, that would make him a very old man. Shaul ben Hacanaanit is listed in Bereshit 46, 7 as one of the sons of Shimon who went down to Mitzrayim. Even if he was just a baby at the time, that would make him 250 years old at the time of the story of Zimri. (210 years of sojourn in Mitzrayim, and 40 years in the desert. ) For someone of his age and stature to get caught with his proverbial pants down is the ultimate shame. What the Talmud could have told us that he has another name. The Shelumiel, who was once the righteous Nasi of the tribe of Shimon, would become just another Shlemiel.

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