What is the reason for holding TWO censuses in the desert?

Right at the beginning of the Book of Numbers, a census of the people of Israel was held:

“The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head.” (Numbers 1:1-3)

Later on, in our weekly Torah portion, we can find another census:

“After the plague, the LORD said to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ houses, all in Israel who are able to go to war.”(Numbers 26: 1-3)

The reason for a second census has been held is divided into two parts: the first and main part is the different purpose of this census and the second part is the meaningful changes that took place after the first census.

Interestingly, in BOTH censuses the Levi tribe was not taken into consideration. At the first census, it was because they were exempted from military service and at the second census there was no need to count them ‘because there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.’ (Numbers 26:62)

While the first census was held for military reasons (Numbers 1), the second census was held for civilian purposes – or more accurately for a better and more just division of the land of Israel, as can be seen in the following verses:

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list.” (Numbers 26:52-55)

After the first census, lots of things that changed the demographics of the Israelites happened such as plagues (one after the sin of the spies and the other plague which was stopped by Phinehas) and Korah’s rebellion. The last thing that was mentioned – Korah’s rebellion – left its strong mark on the Israelites and is strongly connected to the next story the Bible is tells us – the story of the daughters of Zelophehad –  so stay tuned…