Relegating Redemption of the Firstborn to a One-time Event in the Wilderness
Most of us are familiar with the mitzvah of pidyon haben, “redemption of the son” where a father hands over five silver coins to a Kohen to “ransom” his firstborn son. R. Menachem ben Shlomo (12th cent., Rome) in his Sekhel Tov, describes the mitzvah as follows:
ולענין פדיון הבן כשבא ליתן חמש סלעים או שווייהון לכהן, שואל הכהן לאביו ואומר בכור הוא זה ואומר אין, רוצה אתה לפדותו ואומר אין,
With regard to the redemption of the firstborn, when [a father] comes to give five selas or their equivalent to the Kohen, the Kohen asks the father: “Is he a firstborn?” The father answers: “Yes.” [The Kohen asks]: “Do you wish to redeem him?” The father answers: “Yes.”
In theory, if a father were not to pay this ransom for his firstborn, that boy would be consecrated to God like a Levite or Kohen. This institution is confusing, since there appears to be no historical precedent whatsoever for firstborns serving as Levites or Priests in postbiblical or even biblical times.
Some biblical sources imply that unredeemed firstborn boys are consecrated to God, though it appears that for millennia this redemption process was a ritual with no practical consequences for those who did not perform it. Other sources imply that firstborn males need not be redeemed, since Moses already redeemed them and/or traded them for Levites in the wilderness. Let us begin by looking at this latter model.
The One-Time Levite-Firstborn Replacement: An Overview of Chapter 3
After completing the census of the Israelites (Numbers 1-2), God’s first command to Moses in chapter 3 is to place the Levites into the hands of Aaron and the priests, because they were given to God by the Israelites to serve (vv. 5-10). Next, God explains that the Levites are actually a replacement for the Israelite firstborn who are God’s, because of what happened in Egypt.
במדבר ג:יא וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ־הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: ג:יבוַאֲנִ֞י הִנֵּ֧ה לָקַ֣חְתִּי אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֗ם מִתּוֹךְ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל תַּ֧חַת כָּל בְּכ֛וֹר פֶּ֥טֶר רֶ֖חֶם מִבְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהָ֥יוּ לִ֖י הַלְוִיִּֽם: ג:יג כִּ֣י לִי֘ כָּל בְּכוֹר֒ בְּיוֹם֩ הַכֹּתִ֨י כָל בְּכ֜וֹר בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֗יִם הִקְדַּ֨שְׁתִּי לִ֤י כָל בְּכוֹר֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מֵאָדָ֖ם עַד בְּהֵמָ֑ה לִ֥י יִהְי֖וּ אֲנִ֥י יְ־הֹוָֽה:
Num 3:11 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: 3:12 I hereby take the Levites from among the Israelites in place of all the first-born, the first issue of the womb among the Israelites: the Levites shall be Mine. 3:13 For every firstborn is Mine: at the time that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated every firstborn in Israel, man and beast, to Myself, to be Mine, YHWH’s.
Following this explanation, God commands Moses to conduct a census of the Levite males from the age of one month and over, which Moses then carries out (vv. 14-39). After completing this census, Moses receives the command to complete a census of the firstborn (3:40-43). Why must Moses count the firstborn males? God explains:
ג:מא וְלָקַחְתָּ֨ אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֥ם לִי֙ אֲנִ֣י יְ־הֹוָ֔ה תַּ֥חַת כָּל בְּכֹ֖ר בִּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְאֵת֙ בֶּהֱמַ֣ת הַלְוִיִּ֔ם תַּ֣חַת כָּל בְּכ֔וֹר בְּבֶהֱמַ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
3:41 And take the Levites for Me, YHWH, in place of every firstborn among the Israelite people, and the cattle of the Levites in place of every firstborn among the cattle of the Israelites.
Moses completes the census as commanded, and there turns out to be a disparity between the number of Levite males over the age of one month (22,000) and the number of firstborn males (22,273).
ג:מב וַיִּפְקֹ֣ד מֹשֶׁ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֹת֑וֹ אֶֽת כָּל בְּכ֖וֹר בִּבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ג:מג וַיְהִי֩ כָל בְּכ֨וֹר זָכָ֜ר בְּמִסְפַּ֥ר שֵׁמֹ֛ת מִבֶּן חֹ֥דֶשׁ וָמַ֖עְלָה לִפְקֻדֵיהֶ֑ם שְׁנַ֤יִם וְעֶשְׂרִים֙ אֶ֔לֶף שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים וּמָאתָֽיִם:
3:42 So Moses recorded all the first-born among the Israelites, as Yhwh had commanded him. 3:43 All the first-born males as listed by name, recorded from the age of one month up, came to 22,273.
What is to be done with the extra 273 firstborn males? God solves this problem with a suggested purchasing of their freedom.
במדבר ג:מד וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ־הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: ג:מה קַ֣ח אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֗ם תַּ֤חַת כָּל בְּכוֹר֙ בִּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֶת בֶּהֱמַ֥ת הַלְוִיִּ֖ם תַּ֣חַת בְּהֶמְתָּ֑ם וְהָיוּ לִ֥י הַלְוִיִּ֖ם אֲנִ֥י יְ־הֹוָֽה: ג:מו וְאֵת֙ פְּדוּיֵ֣י הַשְּׁלֹשָׁ֔ה וְהַשִּׁבְעִ֖ים וְהַמָּאתָ֑יִם הָעֹֽדְפִים֙ עַל הַלְוִיִּ֔ם מִבְּכ֖וֹר בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ג:מז וְלָקַחְתָּ֗ חֲמֵ֧שֶׁת חֲמֵ֛שֶׁת שְׁקָלִ֖ים לַגֻּלְגֹּ֑לֶת בְּשֶׁ֤קֶל הַקֹּ֙דֶשׁ֙ תִּקָּ֔ח עֶשְׂרִ֥ים גֵּרָ֖ה הַשָּֽׁקֶל: ג:מח וְנָתַתָּ֣ה הַכֶּ֔סֶף לְאַהֲרֹ֖ן וּלְבָנָ֑יו פְּדוּיֵ֕י הָעֹדְפִ֖ים בָּהֶֽם:
Num 3:44 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: 3:45 Take the Levites in place of all the first-born among the Israelite people, and the cattle of the Levites in place of their cattle; and the Levites shall be Mine, YHWH’s. 3:46 And as the redemption price of the 273 Israelite firstborn over and above the number of the Levites, 3:47 take five shekels per head—take this by the sanctuary weight, twenty gerahs to the shekel—3:48 and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are in excess.
The chapter ends (vv. 49-51) with Moses carrying through God’s command, collecting the silver (365,000 shekel), and giving it to Aaron the high priest.
Pidyon (Redemption) Was a One-Time Occurrence
Following the logic of the chapter, the only reason silver was ever exchanged for a firstborn was because of the “historical” accident that there were 273 more firstborns than Levites. There would be no reason—according to this text—for later Israelites to redeem their firstborns, since all of them were, at this point, redeemed.
The idea that the Levites replaced the firstborn at a particular time in history is picked up later in chapter 8.
במדבר ח:יד וְהִבְדַּלְתָּ֙ אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֔ם מִתּ֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהָ֥יוּ לִ֖י הַלְוִיִּֽם: ח:טו וְאַֽחֲרֵי כֵן֙ יָבֹ֣אוּ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם לַעֲבֹ֖ד אֶת אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד…ח:טז כִּי֩ נְתֻנִ֨ים נְתֻנִ֥ים הֵ֙מָּה֙ לִ֔י מִתּ֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל תַּחַת֩ פִּטְרַ֨ת כָּל רֶ֜חֶם בְּכ֥וֹר כֹּל֙ מִבְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לָקַ֥חְתִּי אֹתָ֖ם לִֽי: ח:יז כִּ֣י לִ֤י כָל בְּכוֹר֙ בִּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בָּאָדָ֖ם וּבַבְּהֵמָ֑ה בְּי֗וֹם הַכֹּתִ֤י כָל בְּכוֹר֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם הִקְדַּ֥שְׁתִּי אֹתָ֖ם לִֽי: ח:יח וָאֶקַּח֙ אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֔ם תַּ֥חַת כָּל בְּכ֖וֹר בִּבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Num 8:14 You shall set the Levites apart from the Israelites, and the Levites shall be Mine. 8:15 Thereafter the Levites shall be qualified for the service of the Tent of Meeting… 8:16 For they are formally assigned to Me from among the Israelites: I have taken them for Myself in place of all the first issue of the womb, of all the firstborn of the Israelites. 8:17 For every firstborn among the Israelites, man as well as beast, is Mine; I consecrated them to Myself at the time that I smote every first-born in the land of Egypt. 8:18 Now I take the Levites instead of every first-born of the Israelites.
As in chapter 3, here too God says explicitly that the firstborn males are God’s as a consequence of God saving them when God struck the firstborn Egyptian males, but, since God prefers the Levites, God has exchanged the firstborn for the Levites. The latter will now serve as God’s attendants for all time.
Redemption of the Firstborn as a Perpetual Requirement
The model of Levites exchanged for firstborn is not the only model in the Torah, however. According to other sources—even other Priestly sources—firstborn Israelites are consecrated to God for all time. Accordingly, every father of a firstborn son must redeem him. The following two Priestly texts, which are quite similar to each other, require that firstborn sons be redeemed with silver.
שמות יג:יב וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ֥ כָל פֶּֽטֶר רֶ֖חֶם לַֽי־הֹוָ֑ה….יג:יג …וְכֹ֨ל בְּכ֥וֹר אָדָ֛ם בְּבָנֶ֖יךָ תִּפְדֶּֽה: יג:יד וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֣ר מַה זֹּ֑את וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵלָ֔יו בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֗ד הוֹצִיאָ֧נוּ יְ־הֹוָ֛ה מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֥ית עֲבָדִֽים: יג:טו וַיְהִ֗י כִּֽי הִקְשָׁ֣ה פַרְעֹה֘ לְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ֒ וַיַּהֲרֹ֨ג יְ־הֹוָ֤ה כָּל בְּכוֹר֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם מִבְּכֹ֥ר אָדָ֖ם וְעַד בְּכ֣וֹר בְּהֵמָ֑ה עַל כֵּן֩ אֲנִ֨י זֹבֵ֜חַ לַֽי־הֹוָ֗ה כָּל פֶּ֤טֶר רֶ֙חֶם֙ הַזְּכָרִ֔ים וְכָל בְּכ֥וֹר בָּנַ֖י אֶפְדֶּֽה:
Exod 13:12 You shall set apart for YHWH every first issue of the womb….13:13 …And you must redeem every firstborn male among your children. 13:14 And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘It was with a mighty hand that YHWH brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage. 13:15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, YHWH slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, the firstborn of both man and beast. Therefore I sacrifice to YHWH every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every firstborn among my sons.’
במדבר יח:טו כָּל פֶּ֣טֶר רֶ֠חֶם לְֽכָל בָּשָׂ֞ר אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִ֧יבוּ לַֽי־הֹוָ֛ה בָּאָדָ֥ם וּבַבְּהֵמָ֖ה יִֽהְיֶה לָּ֑ךְ אַ֣ךְ׀ פָּדֹ֣ה תִפְדֶּ֗ה אֵ֚ת בְּכ֣וֹר הָֽאָדָ֔ם וְאֵ֛ת בְּכֽוֹר הַבְּהֵמָ֥ה הַטְּמֵאָ֖ה תִּפְדֶּֽה: יח:טז וּפְדוּיָו֙ מִבֶּן חֹ֣דֶשׁ תִּפְדֶּ֔ה בְּעֶ֨רְכְּךָ֔ כֶּ֛סֶף חֲמֵ֥שֶׁת שְׁקָלִ֖ים בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ עֶשְׂרִ֥ים גֵּרָ֖ה הֽוּא: יח:יז אַ֣ךְ בְּֽכוֹר שׁ֡וֹר אֽוֹ בְכ֨וֹר כֶּ֜שֶׂב אֽוֹ בְכ֥וֹר עֵ֛ז לֹ֥א תִפְדֶּ֖ה קֹ֣דֶשׁ הֵ֑ם…
Num 18:15 The first issue of the womb of every being, man or beast, that is offered to Yhwh, shall be yours; but you shall have the firstborn of man redeemed, and you shall also have the firstling of unclean animals redeemed. 18:16 Take as their redemption price, from the age of one month up, the money equivalent of five shekels by the sanctuary weight, which is twenty gerahs. 18:17 But the firstlings of cattle, sheep, or goats may not be redeemed; they are consecrated….
Although the text does not say so, ostensibly, if the boys are not redeemed, they would be considered consecrated to God all their lives (like Levites or Kohanim), at least in theory. The requirement to redeem the firstborn is perpetual – hence the modern day Pidyon HaBen ritual.
Contrasting the Two Models
Reading the two sets of text together leads to some confusion. The two sets of text do not seem to acknowledge each other, nor do they cohere. If all firstborn Israelite males are to be redeemed (as in Exod 13 and Num 18), there is no need to replace them with the Levites (Num 3 and 8). Conversely, once the Levites had replaced the firstborn (as per Num 3 and 8), the law requiring the redemption of firstborn sons (Exod 13 and Num 18) should no longer be operative.
It is difficult to make sense of the Priestly source without positing that it preserves multiple traditions about the firstborn.
The Redemption of the 273: A Compromise
Here we would like to offer a speculation. We begin by taking a step back and looking at chapter 3 as a whole and in context. The book of Numbers begins with a military census—counting only males age 20 and above—of the twelve tribes. Chapter 3 has an altogether different objective; it is about the position of the Levites vis-à-vis the priests and God. Moses is told to count them, too, but in this case it is all the males one month and older.
Doublets and Tensions
The explanation for the appointment and the census of the Levites is doubled within the chapter itself. In verse 9, God says that the Levites were given to him (נ-ת-נ) by the Israelites, and this is why they are to be appointed as servants to the priests. Then in verse 12, God says he will take (ל-ק-ח) the Levites as replacements for the firstborn Israelites, who are his.
While this is not a contradiction—if Israel gives the Levites God will take them–the doubling seems superfluous and the second text introduces a concept entirely missing from the original statement. In fact, the latter text implies that the Israelites are not “giving” the Levites to God; rather, God already “owns” their firstborns and is switching them for Levites of God’s own accord.
A similar tension exists with the Levitical census. Verses 14-39, which describe the census, describe the division of the Levites into families. The passage implies that the purpose of the census was to ascertain the relative sizes of the three families, so each family could be assigned appropriate tasks. However, the end of the chapter (vv. 40-51) implies that the Levitical census was meant to be in conjunction with that of the firstborn, so that the Levites could be exchanged with the firstborns head for head.
Both of the above tensions are between passages that deal only with the Levites (vv. 5-10, 14-39) and passages that deal with the Levites and the firstborn (vv. 11-13, 40-51). This cumulative, overlapping evidence suggests that the sections dealing with the firstborn are secondary insertions. In fact, the chapter reads quite well without them, and the flow to the next chapter is also smoother. (See the Appendix.)
The Numbers Problem
Seeing the firstborn material as a later addition solves an important numbers problem. In order for this chapter’s solution to work, the number of Levites and firstborns needs to be very close—but this creates a serious problem. As some commentators note, in a population of 600,000 males, the notion that only 22,273 of them are firstborn seems highly improbable. The ratio implies that firstborns died off at an inordinately high rate or that there was a much higher percentage of firstborn girls than should be statistically likely, or that families had 30 male children or more per household—all improbable solutions.
Following our suggestion above, it is likely that the number 22,273 was invented by the later scribes, who added this entire section to the Levite census in order to obviate the perpetual need for the redemption of the firstborn.
The Imperfect Correspondence: A Nod to Pidyon HaBen
The point of having too many firstborns—in addition to creating verisimilitude—was specifically to allow for a one-time pidyon haben ritual, performed by Moses and not their fathers. If there was tension in the Priestly circles over whether there was a need to redeem a firstborn son, as we suggested above, this could have been an attempt at compromise, legitimating the ritual but only as a relic of the past, performed once in the wilderness by Moses.
As we know, in the end, the older tradition of redemption won out, which is why we still have the ritual of pidyon haben. But these texts allow us a glimpse into an ancient polemic, in a time where this ritual was still controversial.
Layers in Chapter 3
במדבר ג:ה וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ־הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: ג:ו הַקְרֵב֙ אֶת מַטֵּ֣ה לֵוִ֔י וְֽהַעֲמַדְתָּ֣ אֹת֔וֹ לִפְנֵ֖י אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֑ן וְשֵׁרְת֖וּ אֹתֽוֹ: ג:ז וְשָׁמְר֣וּ אֶת מִשְׁמַרְתּ֗וֹ וְאֶת מִשְׁמֶ֙רֶת֙ כָּל הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה לִפְנֵ֖י אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד לַעֲבֹ֖ד אֶת עֲבֹדַ֥ת הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן: ג:ח וְשָׁמְר֗וּ אֶֽת כָּל כְּלֵי֙ אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד וְאֶת מִשְׁמֶ֖רֶת בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לַעֲבֹ֖ד אֶת עֲבֹדַ֥ת הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן: ג:ט וְנָתַתָּה֙ אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֔ם לְאַהֲרֹ֖ן וּלְבָנָ֑יו נְתוּנִ֨ם נְתוּנִ֥ם הֵ֙מָּה֙ ל֔וֹ מֵאֵ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ג:י וְאֶת אַהֲרֹ֤ן וְאֶת בָּנָיו֙ תִּפְקֹ֔ד וְשָׁמְר֖וּ אֶת כְּהֻנָּתָ֑ם וְהַזָּ֥ר הַקָּרֵ֖ב יוּמָֽת:
Num 3:5 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: 3:6 Advance the tribe of Levi and place them in attendance upon Aaron the priest to serve him. 3:7They shall perform duties for him and for the whole community before the Tent of Meeting, doing the work of the Tabernacle. 3:8They shall take charge of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting—a duty on behalf of the Israelites—doing the work of the Tabernacle. 3:9 You shall assign the Levites to Aaron and to his sons: they are formally assigned to him from among the Israelites.3:10 You shall make Aaron and his sons responsible for observing their priestly duties; and any outsider who encroaches shall be put to death.
ג:יא וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ־הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר:ג:יב וַאֲנִ֞י הִנֵּ֧ה לָקַ֣חְתִּי אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֗ם מִתּוֹךְ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל תַּ֧חַת כָּל בְּכ֛וֹר פֶּ֥טֶר רֶ֖חֶם מִבְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהָ֥יוּ לִ֖י הַלְוִיִּֽם: ג:יג כִּ֣י לִי֘ כָּל בְּכוֹר֒ בְּיוֹם֩ הַכֹּתִ֨י כָל בְּכ֜וֹר בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֗יִם הִקְדַּ֨שְׁתִּי לִ֤י כָל בְּכוֹר֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מֵאָדָ֖ם עַד בְּהֵמָ֑ה לִ֥י יִהְי֖וּ אֲנִ֥י יְ־הֹוָֽה:
3:11 Yhwh spoke to Moses, saying: 3:12 I hereby take the Levites from among the Israelites in place of all the first-born, the first issue of the womb among the Israelites: the Levites shall be Mine. 3:13 For every first-born is Mine: at the time that I smote every first-born in the land of Egypt, I consecrated every first-born in Israel, man and beast, to Myself, to be Mine, Yhwh’s.
ג:יד וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר יְ־הֹוָה֙ אֶל מֹשֶׁ֔ה בְּמִדְבַּ֥ר סִינַ֖י לֵאמֹֽר: ג:טו פְּקֹד֙ אֶת בְּנֵ֣י לֵוִ֔י לְבֵ֥ית אֲבֹתָ֖ם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֑ם כָּל זָכָ֛ר מִבֶּן חֹ֥דֶשׁ וָמַ֖עְלָה תִּפְקְדֵֽם: ג:טז וַיִּפְקֹ֥ד אֹתָ֛ם מֹשֶׁ֖ה עַל פִּ֣י יְ־הֹוָ֑ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר צֻוָּֽה: ג:יז וַיִּֽהְיוּ אֵ֥לֶּה בְנֵֽי לֵוִ֖י בִּשְׁמֹתָ֑ם גֵּרְשׁ֕וֹן וּקְהָ֖ת וּמְרָרִֽי: ג:יח וְאֵ֛לֶּה שְׁמ֥וֹת בְּֽנֵי גֵרְשׁ֖וֹן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֑ם לִבְנִ֖י וְשִׁמְעִֽי: ג:יטוּבְנֵ֥י קְהָ֖ת לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֑ם עַמְרָ֣ם וְיִצְהָ֔ר חֶבְר֖וֹן וְעֻזִּיאֵֽל: ג:כ וּבְנֵ֧י מְרָרִ֛י לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֖ם מַחְלִ֣י וּמוּשִׁ֑י אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֛ם מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הַלֵּוִ֖י לְבֵ֥ית אֲבֹתָֽם:ג:כא לְגֵ֣רְשׁ֔וֹן מִשְׁפַּ֙חַת֙ הַלִּבְנִ֔י וּמִשְׁפַּ֖חַת הַשִּׁמְעִ֑י אֵ֣לֶּה הֵ֔ם מִשְׁפְּחֹ֖ת הַגֵּרְשֻׁנִּֽי: ג:כבפְּקֻדֵיהֶם֙ בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר כָּל זָכָ֔ר מִבֶּן חֹ֖דֶשׁ וָמָ֑עְלָה פְּקֻ֣דֵיהֶ֔ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת אֲלָפִ֖ים וַחֲמֵ֥שׁ מֵאֽוֹת: ג:כגמִשְׁפְּחֹ֖ת הַגֵּרְשֻׁנִּ֑י אַחֲרֵ֧י הַמִּשְׁכָּ֛ן יַחֲנ֖וּ יָֽמָּה: ג:כד וּנְשִׂ֥יא בֵֽית אָ֖ב לַגֵּרְשֻׁנִּ֑י אֶלְיָסָ֖ף בֶּן לָאֵֽל: ג:כה וּמִשְׁמֶ֤רֶת בְּנֵֽי גֵרְשׁוֹן֙ בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן וְהָאֹ֑הֶל מִכְסֵ֕הוּ וּמָסַ֕ךְ פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד: ג:כו וְקַלְעֵ֣י הֶֽחָצֵ֗ר וְאֶת מָסַךְ֙ פֶּ֣תַח הֶֽחָצֵ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֧ר עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּ֛ן וְעַל הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ סָבִ֑יב וְאֵת֙ מֵֽיתָרָ֔יו לְכֹ֖ל עֲבֹדָתֽוֹ: ג:כז וְלִקְהָ֗ת מִשְׁפַּ֤חַת הַֽעַמְרָמִי֙ וּמִשְׁפַּ֣חַת הַיִּצְהָרִ֔י וּמִשְׁפַּ֙חַת֙ הַֽחֶבְרֹנִ֔י וּמִשְׁפַּ֖חַת הָֽעָזִּיאֵלִ֑י אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֖ם מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הַקְּהָתִֽי: ג:כח בְּמִסְפַּר֙ כָּל זָכָ֔ר מִבֶּן חֹ֖דֶשׁ וָמָ֑עְלָה שְׁמֹנַ֤ת אֲלָפִים֙ וְשֵׁ֣שׁ מֵא֔וֹת שֹׁמְרֵ֖י מִשְׁמֶ֥רֶת הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ: ג:כט מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת בְּנֵי קְהָ֖ת יַחֲנ֑וּ עַ֛ל יֶ֥רֶךְ הַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן תֵּימָֽנָה: ג:לוּנְשִׂ֥יא בֵֽית אָ֖ב לְמִשְׁפְּחֹ֣ת הַקְּהָתִ֑י אֱלִיצָפָ֖ן בֶּן עֻזִּיאֵֽל: ג:לא וּמִשְׁמַרְתָּ֗ם הָאָרֹ֤ן וְהַשֻּׁלְחָן֙ וְהַמְּנֹרָ֣ה וְהַֽמִּזְבְּחֹ֔ת וּכְלֵ֣י הַקֹּ֔דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְשָׁרְת֖וּ בָּהֶ֑ם וְהַ֨מָּסָ֔ךְ וְכֹ֖ל עֲבֹדָתֽוֹ: ג:לב וּנְשִׂיא֙ נְשִׂיאֵ֣י הַלֵּוִ֔י אֶלְעָזָ֖ר בֶּן אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֑ן פְּקֻדַּ֕ת שֹׁמְרֵ֖י מִשְׁמֶ֥רֶת הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ: ג:לג לִמְרָרִ֕י מִשְׁפַּ֙חַת֙ הַמַּחְלִ֔י וּמִשְׁפַּ֖חַת הַמּוּשִׁ֑י אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֖ם מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת מְרָרִֽי:ג:לד וּפְקֻדֵיהֶם֙ בְּמִסְפַּ֣ר כָּ זָכָ֔ר מִבֶּן חֹ֖דֶשׁ וָמָ֑עְלָה שֵׁ֥שֶׁת אֲלָפִ֖ים וּמָאתָֽיִם: ג:לה וּנְשִׂ֤יא בֵֽית אָב֙ לְמִשְׁפְּחֹ֣ת מְרָרִ֔י צוּרִיאֵ֖ל בֶּן אֲבִיחָ֑יִל עַ֣ל יֶ֧רֶךְ הַמִּשְׁכָּ֛ן יַחֲנ֖וּ צָפֹֽנָה: ג:לו וּפְקֻדַּ֣ת מִשְׁמֶרֶת֘ בְּנֵ֣י מְרָרִי֒ קַרְשֵׁי֙ הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן וּבְרִיחָ֖יו וְעַמֻּדָ֣יו וַאֲדָנָ֑יו וְכָל כֵּלָ֔יו וְכֹ֖ל עֲבֹדָתֽוֹ: ג:לזוְעַמֻּדֵ֧י הֶחָצֵ֛ר סָבִ֖יב וְאַדְנֵיהֶ֑ם וִיתֵדֹתָ֖ם וּמֵֽיתְרֵיהֶֽם: ג:לח וְהַחֹנִ֣ים לִפְנֵ֣י הַמִּשְׁכָּ֡ן קֵ֣דְמָה לִפְנֵי֩ אֹֽהֶל מוֹעֵ֨ד׀ מִזְרָ֜חָה מֹשֶׁ֣ה׀ וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן וּבָנָ֗יו שֹֽׁמְרִים֙ מִשְׁמֶ֣רֶת הַמִּקְדָּ֔שׁ לְמִשְׁמֶ֖רֶת בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהַזָּ֥ר הַקָּרֵ֖ב יוּמָֽת: ג:לט כָּל פְּקוּדֵ֨י הַלְוִיִּ֜ם אֲשֶׁר֩ פָּקַ֨ד מֹשֶׁ֧ה וְאַהֲרֹ֛ן עַל פִּ֥י יְ־הֹוָ֖ה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָ֑ם כָּל זָכָר֙ מִבֶּן חֹ֣דֶשׁ וָמַ֔עְלָה שְׁנַ֥יִם וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים אָֽלֶף:
3:14 Yhwh spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying: 3:15Record the Levites by ancestral house and by clan; record every male among them from the age of one month up. 3:16 So Moses recorded them at the command of Yhwh, as he was bidden. 3:17These were the sons of Levi by name: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 3:18 These were the names of the sons of Gershon by clan: Libni and Shimei. 3:19 The sons of Kohath by clan: Amram and Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel. 3:20 The sons of Merari by clan: Mahli and Mushi. These were the clans of the Levites within their ancestral houses: 3:21 To Gershon belonged the clan of the Libnites and the clan of the Shimeites; those were the clans of the Gershonites. 3:22 The recorded entries of all their males from the age of one month up, as recorded, came to 7,500. 3:23 The clans of the Gershonites were to camp behind the Tabernacle, to the west.3:24 The chieftain of the ancestral house of the Gershonites was Eliasaph son of Lael. 3:25 The duties of the Gershonites in the Tent of Meeting comprised: the Tabernacle, the tent, its covering, and the screen for the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; 3:26 the hangings of the enclosure, the screen for the entrance of the enclosure which surrounds the Tabernacle, the cords thereof, and the altar—all the service connected with these. 3:27 To Kohath belonged the clan of the Amramites, the clan of the Izharites, the clan of the Hebronites, and the clan of the Uzzielites; those were the clans of the Kohathites. 3:28 All the listed males from the age of one month up came to 8,600, attending to the duties of the sanctuary. 3:29 The clans of the Kohathites were to camp along the south side of the Tabernacle. 3:30 The chieftain of the ancestral house of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 3:31 Their duties comprised: the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the sacred utensils that were used with them, and the screen—all the service connected with these. 3:32 The head chieftain of the Levites was Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, in charge of those attending to the duties of the sanctuary. 3:33 To Merari belonged the clan of the Mahlites and the clan of the Mushites; those were the clans of Merari. 3:34 The recorded entries of all their males from the age of one month up came to 6,200. 3:35 The chieftain of the ancestral house of the clans of Merari was Zuriel son of Abihail. They were to camp along the north side of the Tabernacle. 3:36 The assigned duties of the Merarites comprised: the planks of the Tabernacle, its bars, posts, and sockets, and all its furnishings—all the service connected with these; 3:37 also the posts around the enclosure and their sockets, pegs, and cords. 3:38 Those who were to camp before the Tabernacle, in front—before the Tent of Meeting, on the east were Moses and Aaron and his sons, attending to the duties of the sanctuary, as a duty on behalf of the Israelites; and any outsider who encroached was to be put to death. 3:39 All the Levites who were recorded, whom at Yhwh’s command Moses and Aaron recorded by their clans, all the males from the age of one month up, came to 20,000.
ג:מ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְ־הֹוָ֜ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֗ה פְּקֹ֨ד כָּל בְּכֹ֤ר זָכָר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִבֶּן חֹ֖דֶשׁ וָמָ֑עְלָה וְשָׂ֕א אֵ֖ת מִסְפַּ֥ר שְׁמֹתָֽם: ג:מאוְלָקַחְתָּ֨ אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֥ם לִי֙ אֲנִ֣י יְ־הֹוָ֔ה תַּ֥חַת כָּל בְּכֹ֖ר בִּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְאֵת֙ בֶּהֱמַ֣ת הַלְוִיִּ֔ם תַּ֣חַת כָּל בְּכ֔וֹר בְּבֶהֱמַ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ג:מב וַיִּפְקֹ֣ד מֹשֶׁ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה יְ־הֹוָ֖ה אֹת֑וֹ אֶֽת כָּל בְּכ֖וֹר בִּבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ג:מג וַיְהִי֩ כָל בְּכ֨וֹר זָכָ֜ר בְּמִסְפַּ֥ר שֵׁמֹ֛ת מִבֶּן חֹ֥דֶשׁ וָמַ֖עְלָה לִפְקֻדֵיהֶ֑ם שְׁנַ֤יִם וְעֶשְׂרִים֙ אֶ֔לֶף שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים וּמָאתָֽיִם:
3:40 YHWH said to Moses: Record every first-born male of the Israelite people from the age of one month up, and make a list of their names; 3:41 and take the Levites for Me, YHWH, in place of every firstborn among the Israelite people, and the cattle of the Levites in place of every firstborn among the cattle of the Israelites. 3:42 So Moses recorded all the firstborn among the Israelites, as YHWH had commanded him. 3:43All the firstborn males as listed by name, recorded from the age of one month up, came to 22,273.
ג:מד וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ־הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר:ג:מה קַ֣ח אֶת הַלְוִיִּ֗ם תַּ֤חַת כָּל בְּכוֹר֙ בִּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֶת בֶּהֱמַ֥ת הַלְוִיִּ֖ם תַּ֣חַת בְּהֶמְתָּ֑ם וְהָיוּ לִ֥י הַלְוִיִּ֖ם אֲנִ֥י יְ־הֹוָֽה:ג:מו וְאֵת֙ פְּדוּיֵ֣י הַשְּׁלֹשָׁ֔ה וְהַשִּׁבְעִ֖ים וְהַמָּאתָ֑יִם הָעֹֽדְפִים֙ עַל הַלְוִיִּ֔ם מִבְּכ֖וֹר בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: ג:מז וְלָקַחְתָּ֗ חֲמֵ֧שֶׁת חֲמֵ֛שֶׁת שְׁקָלִ֖ים לַגֻּלְגֹּ֑לֶת בְּשֶׁ֤קֶל הַקֹּ֙דֶשׁ֙ תִּקָּ֔ח עֶשְׂרִ֥ים גֵּרָ֖ה הַשָּֽׁקֶל: ג:מח וְנָתַתָּ֣ה הַכֶּ֔סֶף לְאַהֲרֹ֖ן וּלְבָנָ֑יו פְּדוּיֵ֕י הָעֹדְפִ֖ים בָּהֶֽם: ג:מט וַיִּקַּ֣ח מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵ֖ת כֶּ֣סֶף הַפִּדְי֑וֹם מֵאֵת֙ הָעֹ֣דְפִ֔ים עַ֖ל פְּדוּיֵ֥י הַלְוִיִּֽם: ג:נ מֵאֵ֗ת בְּכ֛וֹר בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לָקַ֣ח אֶת הַכָּ֑סֶף חֲמִשָּׁ֨ה וְשִׁשִּׁ֜ים וּשְׁלֹ֥שׁ מֵא֛וֹת וָאֶ֖לֶף בְּשֶׁ֥קֶל הַקֹּֽדֶשׁ: ג:נא וַיִּתֵּ֨ן מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶת כֶּ֧סֶף הַפְּדֻיִ֛ם לְאַהֲרֹ֥ן וּלְבָנָ֖יו עַל פִּ֣י יְ־הֹוָ֑ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה יְ־הֹוָ֖ה אֶת מֹשֶֽׁה:
3:44 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: 3:45 Take the Levites in place of all the first-born among the Israelite people, and the cattle of the Levites in place of their cattle; and the Levites shall be Mine, YHWH’s. 3:46 And as the redemption price of the 273 Israelite first-born over and above the number of the Levites, 3:47 take five shekels per head—take this by the sanctuary weight, twenty gerahs to the shekel—3:48 and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are in excess. 3:49 So Moses took the redemption money from those over and above the ones redeemed by the Levites; 3:50 he took the money from the first-born of the Israelites, 1,365 sanctuary shekels. 3:51 An Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons at Yhwh’s bidding, as Yhwh had commanded Moses.
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Dr. Eve Levavi Feinstein holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University. Her dissertation, “Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible” (Oxford University Press), explores the Bible’s use of purity and contamination language to describe sexual relationships. She has also written articles for Jewish Ideas Daily and Vetus Testamentum.
Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is the Senior Editor of TheTorah.com, and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures and Hebrew Bible, an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period), as well as ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter 2016) and editor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth Century Judah (SBL 2018).
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