In this week’s Parsha, G-d commands Moshe to take a census of the Jewish males ranging from 20-60 years of age. The total came to 603,550.

Moshe was also instructed to take two additional censuses. One, of the tribe of Levi, and another of the first-born males. The total for the Levites came to 22,000 while the first-born came to 22,273.

The Torah speaks of G-d’s special endearment and holy designation for the Jewish first-born males. This is because G-d lovingly spared them when He smote the Egyptian firstborn during the final plague.

The first-born were originally slated to be Kohanim/priests in the Temple. However, because some of the first-born participated in worshiping the golden calf, G-d revoked their priestly responsibilities and reassigned the special priestly status to the tribe of Levi, whose entire tribe was free of any involvement in worshipping the golden calf.

The Torah tells us that to fulfill this reassignment each first born had to be represented by a Levite.

However, there were 273 more first-born than the amount of Levites. How was the priestly designation removed from these firstborn? The Torah tells us that these 273 first-borns were to present five silver coins to Aaron the Kohain which served as the firstborn’s redemption for his service. This transfer is done today when a father redeems his first-born son when he is 30 days old in a ceremony called Pidyon Haben.

The question is how did they determine which first-born was redeemed through a Levite and which ones needed to pay the five silver Shekels?

The Talmud explains that it was done through drawing lots. Moshe wrote on 22,000 pieces of paper, “Levite”, and he wrote on 273 pieces of paper, “five Shekels”. Each first born picked from the lot and he followed what was written on the paper he picked.

A question asked is why did Moshe have to go through the effort to write ‘Levite’ on the 22,000 pieces of paper? He could have just written the words ‘5 Shekels’ on 273 pieces of paper, and left the other 22,000 blank. Those that picked a blank would be told that they are replaced by a Levite. This would have produced the same result.

I recall coming across the following insightful answer, but I do not remember who said it.

Moshe went through the arduous and laborious effort to write, ‘Levite’, 22,000 times in order that the thousands who were discharged by a Levite would not feel they were getting a ‘blank stare’ as they looked at both sides of the paper and found it blank. Even though picking up the blank, meant not shelling out five Shekels, still, Moshe was sensitive to their feelings that they should not feel the least bit slighted by having to stare at a worthless blank piece of paper.

By writing ‘Levite’ 22,000 times, each of the first born had a treasured memento – a piece of paper with Moshe’s personal script!

All it takes is to express to someone just one thoughtful word and it can have a tremendous effect on their life!