This week’s Torah reading begins with a command to Moshe and Aharon to take a census of the Children of Israel, and the resulting count by tribe. Rabbi Moshe Nachmanides, a famed commentator from the 13th century, notes that the tribe of Levi is notably smaller than others. The family of Rueven numbers 46,500, for example, and the census of Dan totals 62,700. The family of Yosef is divided into Ephraim (40,500) and Menashe (32,200), totalling over 72,000, and that of Yehudah is the largest, 74,600. But when the Torah then describes counting the Levi’im, the total is a relatively paltry 22,000. Why this disparity?

The Medrash says that Pharaoh tricked the Jews into working for him. He initially joined them, and had his ministers do so as well, showing the Jews that it was the loyal thing to do. Then, however, he and the other Egyptians stopped working, but insisted the Jews continue. And then, until the liberation of the Jews, he made their working conditions ever more unbearable.

The tribe of Levi, however, remained studying Torah from the beginning. And because they never worked for Pharoah when it seemed rewarding, the Egyptians were unable to enslave them.

Nachmanides points to the verse: “In accordance with the way they afflicted them, so they multiplied and so they expanded” [Ex. 1:12]. This means, he says, that HaShem caused the Jews to be fruitful and multiply beyond what was natural. The more they were mistreated, the more they grew.

But this, he notes, did not apply to Levi’im, because they were not afflicted! And this is why they grew at a more normal rate. This is true although they were not enslaved due to their righteousness and their dedication to studying Torah. Even so, they were not afflicted by the Egyptians, and did not enjoy the blessing of supernatural growth.

The Sages teach us that all pains a person suffers have a benefit, a “payback,” as it were. They wipe away sin, and increase reward. So when a person is going through difficulties, it is worth remembering that the tribes which suffered so greatly also grew great in number—precisely because they went through pain and affliction. G-d always makes sure there is a payback for pain!

Photo credit: Kam S

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