The Shaloh Hakadosh1 tells us that the parshah of the week is connected to the time in which it's read. There is a rule, "we always read parshat Bamidbar Sinai before Atzeret2 [Shavuot]."3 Sometimes Parshat Nasso is also read before Shavuot, but in most years it is read after Shavuot.

What is the connection between Bamidbar and the preparation of receiving the Torah on Shavuot?

On Shavuot, we receive the Torah again, each year experiencing a newer and deeper spiritual energy. Preparing for receiving the Torah helps us later incorporate the new energy into our lives.

When does the preparation begin? Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes in his Shulchan Aruch Harav:4 "It is customary in these countries not to fast and not to say Tachanun from Rosh Chodesh until the eighth [of the month of Sivan] ... since right after Rosh Chodesh, Moses started to work with them in the matter of receiving the Torah. Monday was Rosh Chodesh.5 On Tuesday he said, 'And you will be for me a kingdom of Kohanim vegomer [etc.].'6 On Wednesday he told them the commandment of setting limits: 'Be careful not to go up the mountain etc.'7 On Thursday he told them the commandment of separation, that they should separate from their wives that day and the next, and to be ready for the third day,8 which was Shabbat." So the preparation began on Tuesday, the 2nd of Sivan, and our preparation begins on the 2nd as well, therefore we don't say tachanun.”

These words need to be cleared up.

The second of Sivan was the first day of preparation. He says, "On Tuesday he told them, 'And you will be for Me a kingdom of Kohanim vegomer [etc.].'"

Why does he choose this verse as the beginning of the preparation? There was another verse before this one, that also tells the Jewish people what they will become. It says, "And you will be for me a treasure from all the nations."9 Why didn't he mention that verse as the beginning of the preparation?

Why did he stop short before the conclusion of the phrase? The entire phrase is, "And you will be for Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation." Instead he employs the term vegomer, which means there is more to the verse, but he didn't want to write it because it is not so applicable here. Yet it is important enough for him to hint at, because there is something more you can gain from it. Why didn't he want to write the part about us being "a holy nation?" And what was he hinting at by writing vegomer?

There are two understandings of the word Kohanim in this verse. The Ramban10 says, "You will be a kingdom of My servants and a holy nation to cleave to the Holy G‑d." This is the normal translation of the word Kohanim, people who are set aside to serve G‑d. However Rashi,11 who explains the simple meaning of the verse, explains that it means "ministers." Meaning, those who rule over others and/or are tasked to oversee something.

Why does Rashi feel the need to change from the regular explanation? He himself says earlier,12 "Every expression of kohen refers to one who serves G‑d." Yet here, he says that it means ministers. Why?

Rashi was prompted by the very next words of the verse: "and a holy nation," which means separated to serve G‑d. That means that when it says kohanim earlier, it must mean something else. Rashi explains that here it means ministers, and he brings a proof from the fact that scripture13 called the children of King David kohanim. They were certainly ministers, but they certainly didn't serve in the Temple since they were from the tribe of Judah.

What is understood from all this is that every one of us holds three titles. The first is "chosen," that we are precious to G‑d, as it says, "You will be for Me a treasure from all the nations." Attaining this title requires no work on our behalf. It is just that G‑d chose us to be precious to Him.

The second is "minister," where we rule over our bodies and our place in the world, following in the ways of G‑d. As it says, "And you will be for Me a kingdom of kohanim, which we understand to mean “ministers.”

The third is being priests, separated to serve G‑d and to cleave to Him, as the verse concludes, "and a holy nation."

Which one of these is most important and our main purpose?

It can't be the idea of being chosen, because it requires no action on our behalf. Rather, it must be one of the latter two, ministers or priests.

The Talmud14 tells us that "at the time that Moses went up on High, the ministering angels asked G‑d, 'Master of the world, what is the child of a woman doing among us?' He said to them, 'he came to receive the Torah.' They said before Him, 'It is more cherished being hidden ... You want to give it to flesh and blood? What is man, that they will remember it?15 Place Your splendor upon the heavens.'16 G‑d said to Moses, 'Give them a response.' … He said before Him, 'Master of the world, the Torah that you are giving me, what is written in it? "I Am the Lord your G‑d Who took you out of Egypt."'17 He said to [the angels], 'did you go down to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours? What else is written in it? "You shall not have any gods before Me."18 Do you live among the nations that serve false deities?'" Moshe continued with this line of reasoning, responding to the angels, bringing proofs from the rest of the commandments. About Shabbat he said, "You don't do any work that you need to rest from... Do you have a father and mother [to honor]?... Is there jealousy between you? Is there an evil inclination among you?" Immediately, they conceded to him before G‑d.

We see from this passage that the most important part of the Torah is that we deal with the physical mundane aspects of the world and our lives, to completely rule over them. Being holy, separate to serve G‑d, already existed in heaven by the angels. What is more, they fill that role much better than we ever can.

This is the actual purpose of the giving of the Torah. Our forefathers kept the whole Torah, even before it was given.19 What is the difference between the way they kept it and the way we keep it now, after the giving of the Torah?

Our forefathers kept the Torah to be holy, and remained aloof to serve G‑d and to cleave to Him, like the angels. With the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, we were given the ability to affect the physical world with Torah study, mitzvot and using our regular mundane actions, like eating, drinking, business, and exercise, to help us serve G‑d, raising the most mundane aspects of our lives to Him as well.

Now we can understand why Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi specifically wrote, "And you will be for Me a kingdom of kohanim," meaning ministers. Because, although the other appellations are of value, being ministers, ruling over our bodies and immediate environment, is the most important part of the giving of the Torah. That is what we should be preparing for.

He adds vegomer to hint to the rest of the phrase, "and a holy nation," because if we are ministers over our bodies and our place in the world, it will lead to us becoming holy, uplifted to serve G‑d and cleave to Him. However, that is not the main thing. It is merely the icing on the cake, and the completion of the work we do as ministers.

The parshah has three countings in it. First, there is the count of all the Israelite men between the ages of 20 and 60, excluding the tribe of Levi. Then there is the count of the tribe of Levi, from one month and older. And finally, the parshah ends with the count of the children of Kehot from the age of 30 until 50. These three counts reflect the three titles conferred upon every Jew.

The Shaloh Hakadosh20 tells us that the significance of counting the Jewish people is the halachic rule that something that is counted cannot be nullified.21 The item's superior value is not intrinsic, as it can be the exactly the same as other items, but because it was counted, it was raised to a higher status, and cannot be nullified.

This is similar to being chosen. Even though we seem like the rest of the people of the world, but because G‑d chose us, our status was raised.

About the count of the tribe of Levi, Rashi22 says that the word hafked, to count, "is an expression of appointment and ministering." On top of being chosen, they were appointed as ministers. They replaced the firstborns, who, as heads of their families, had ministered over the others.

The count of the children of Kehot was limited to those who were to serve in the Mishkan, carrying the holiest items, including the Ark of the Covenant. Their charge was to be holy and serve G‑d.

Which count is most unique to parshat Bamidbar?

The count of the Jewish people, although significant, is not unique. It is actually the third time G‑d had the Jewish people counted.

The count of the children of Kehot was part of a greater count, which included the children of Gershon and the children of Merari, and it continues into the next parshah.

The only one that is unique to parshat Bamidbar is the count of the tribe of Levi, and it is again pointing out the importance of being ministers, affecting our bodies and our place in the world, as the most important part of the giving of the Torah.

Every year, we prepare to receive the Torah with the focus on being "a kingdom of kohanim," ministers. This strengthens us to be masters over every aspect of our lives. Ultimately this leads to mastery over the spiritual realms as well, as the Maggid of Mezritch23 explains "a kingdom of kohanim" to mean that we "coronate the supernal ministers."

This will lead us to becoming "a kingdom of kohanim," according to its simple meaning, separated for G‑d, uplifted to cleave to Him, in the third Beit Hamikdash, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon. The time has come.24