Parshas Bamidbar begins with the apparent appointing of 12 nesiim (princes) who would help Moshe with the counting (and presumably have some other administrative or authoritative role). Parshas Naso discusses their contribution to the Mishkan.

However, there's a bit of an issue here: the events of Parshas Bamidbar occurred in the second month (Iyar) of the second year, and the setting up of the Mishkan and subsequent princely gifts began on the first month - before their appointment!

The pesukim at the beginning of Bamidbar seem to imply that Moshe was told to appoint them specifically for/at the time of the count, but Parshas Naso implies otherwise. Were they actually appointed (or otherwise known) before the Parshas Bamidbar counting? (I'm inclined to say yes, but I'd like to see the issue discussed somewhere)

  • I don't see why you think they were appointed only at the time of the count.
    – Double AA
    May 26, 2014 at 21:58
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    @DoubleAA They are introduced as "וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים... אשר יעמדו אתכם", as if they were regular people who are presently being named to stand with them, as though Moshe would otherwise not know who they were. If they were already recognized as nesiim, they should have been introduced as such (Hashem would have said, take the nesiim, who are named etc.) But maybe you're right; no one discusses this because the obvious solution is that they were indeed known beforehand May 26, 2014 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


You ask a great question, but are incorrect that no one addresses it...

The Torah tells us (Bamidbar 7:2, all translations from Alhatorah):

וַיַּקְרִ֙יבוּ֙ נְשִׂיאֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רָאשֵׁ֖י בֵּ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם הֵ֚ם נְשִׂיאֵ֣י הַמַּטֹּ֔ת הֵ֥ם הָעֹמְדִ֖ים עַל־הַפְּקֻדִֽים׃

that the princes of Israel, the heads of their fathers’ houses, offered. These were the princes of the tribes. These are they who were over those who were numbered:

If it wasn't clear enough from the verse itself that these leaders were already appointed in some capacity, Rashi comments that these leaders were already known to them from when they left Egypt:

הם נשיאי המטות – שהיו שוטרים עליהם במצרים והיו מוכים עליהם, שנאמר: ויכו שוטרי בני ישראל (שמות ה׳:י״ד).

הם נשיאי המטת THESE ARE THE LEADERS OF THE TRIBES – They were the officers [appointed] over them in Egypt, and they were beaten on account of them, as it says (Exodus 5:14),"The officers of the children of Israel were beaten" (Sifrei Bamidbar 45).

(Many of the other Mefarshim, including some of the Mefarshei Rashi, understand that the next part of the verse is speaking about the future, but you can check virtually any of the mefarshim yourself to see how they address it, as some provide alternatives - link here.)

One possible explanation that I didn't see in any of the mefarshim there would be to say that the counting was a very long process, and that they were appointed earlier to begin organizing it.

In short - Yes, many of the mefarshim ask this explicitly, and understand that that the Nesi'im were already known to them.

  • Thanks, but I don't think this really answers the question. What I was really looking for is someone who explains the strange (to me) textual phenomenon that verse 1:5 seems to introduce the nesiim as in charge of the census, but in 7:2 they are named as "those standing over the census" as if that [the census in particular] was known already. Is the Torah just written for the perspective of readers who are going in order, even if this isn't chronological order? Jun 13, 2019 at 1:52
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    Also, regarding "One possible explanation that I didn't see..." this idea is developed by U. Cassuto. Jun 13, 2019 at 1:52
  • @הנערהזה the question, as posed, was "Were they actually appointed (or otherwise known) before the Parshas Bamidbar counting?". This answered that. The subsequent question that you asked is answered by the implication of all those who say that the Torah is writing about the future here, saying that the Torah is written for the reader. Jun 13, 2019 at 2:14

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