Classic Questions

Why are Aharon's descendants mentioned here? (3:1-4)

Ramban: After discussing the main census of the Jewish people,1 the subject now turns to the tribe of Levi. Before discussing the details pertaining to the Levites themselves, the Torah mentions the heads of this tribe, the priests.

Abarbanel: After the Torah has stressed how the children of Israel multiplied greatly to form a large population, and had appointed leaders, the Torah now contrasts this with the fact that Moshe and Aharon's children were few, and even though Aharon's children had been appointed to positions of importance, two of them died for bringing "an extraneous fire before G‑d."2

Furthermore, stating that the priests were few in number also serves as an introduction as to why it was necessary to appoint the Levites as assistants to the priests, as is set out in the subsequent section.

The Rebbe's Teachings

Aharon's Descendants (3:1-4)

Verses 1-4, which chronicle Aharon's descendants, are problematic, since:

  1. They appear to teach us nothing that we do not already know.
  2. Above, we read of the census of the Jewish people, and below we read of the census of the Levites. These verses thus interrupt a thematic flow with seemingly unrelated details.

Since this is a problem which arises at the literal level (discussed by Ramban and Abarbanel), why is it not addressed by Rashi?

The Explanation

Rashi makes no comment here, as the matter is already understood from one of his earlier comments. When the Torah states above3 that the tribe of Levi was not included in the main census, but was to be given a census of its own, Rashi explains: "The King's legion deserves to be counted on its own." From this we can understand logically in our case: If the Levites were counted separately due to their importance ("the King's legion"), then all the more so should the "anointed priests"4 have been counted separately. According to Rashi, therefore, verses 3:1-4 are actually a kind of "census" of the priests.5