"The sons of Naphtali, their offspring, according to their families, according to their fathers’ houses…" (Num. 1:42)

Parashat Bemidbar opens with G‑d’s command to Moses and Aaron to take the census of the Jewish people. The results of the census are given for each tribe in the form: "For the sons of X, their offspring, according to their families, according to their fathers’ houses, the number of names from twenty years old up, all those subject to conscription, those counted of the tribe of X: Y," where X is the name of the tribe and Y the number of persons counted.

It is appropriate to note that with regard to all the tribes, the expression "for the sons of.." is used, while in the case of the last tribe, Naphtali, it says only "the sons of.." and not "for." (Sha’ar HaPesukim and Likeitei Torah, parashat Bemidbar)

...the heads of the tribes and their scribes circulated throughout the whole camp of Israel...

The reason for this is as follows: When they wanted to count the Jews, the heads of the tribes and their scribes circulated throughout the whole camp of Israel, standing at the entry of every tent, writing in their tablet the names of those who lived in each tent, in the form: "So-and-so the son of So-and-so of the tribe of so-and-so," and so forth. They did this until they finished counting all the households of Israel.

Then, they took this tablet [in which the names of] thousands of individuals were randomly written, and had to divide it up into lists of the members of each tribe on a separate sheet.

In order to do this, they began with the first [random] list, removing first all the names belonging to the tribe of Reuben, the firstborn, by [reading off these names], saying, "Record So-and-so the son of So-and-so on the list of the tribe of such-and-such." [The scribes] would then write these names individually [on the first of the separate list].

They then returned to [the beginning of] the random list and proceeded to remove all the names belonging to the tribe of Simeon from it, writing them in the second of the separate lists, "this is for the sons of Simeon."

They did this for each of the first eleven tribes.

When they finished the first eleven tribes, only one tribe was left, i.e., Naphtali. In his case, they did not need to return [to the beginning of the random list] and remove [the names belonging to this tribe] in order to write them on another list, for by this time there were no longer any [names belonging] to other tribes mixed in with this tribe; only it was left.

They therefore counted [the tribe of Naphtali] from the existing list, and they said simply, "such-and-such is the number of the sons of Naphtali that are left [on this list]."

Whereas in the case of the other [tribes] that had to be tallied on separate lists, it is written "for the tribe of So-and-so" meaning, "This person written here [on the random list] must be joined with the tribe of Simeon, or Reuben, etc." The remaining, [unerased (or checked-off)] names on the first list were [by default] of the tribe of Naphtali.

We see from this excerpt that the Arizal did not only focus on the esoteric dimension of the Torah; he also occasionally explained the basic, contextual meaning (peshat) of Scripture.

Excerpted from "Apples From the Orchard" – Gleanings from the Mystical Teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal) on the Weekly Torah Portion, translation and commentary by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky, available at Kabbala Online Shop

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