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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

34. What Makes a Family?

And how did DNA become something used to divide us instead of showing us the amazing unity of life?

Parshah Bamidbar

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Reimagining democracy

  • Evolving past our obsession with genealogy

  • People do crazy things in the name of “legacy”

  • Militarism and the ideology of people-as-sacrifice

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Numbers 1:2-5*

“Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families…with you shall be one man from each tribe; a man who is a leader of his father’s household. These are the names of the men who shall stand with you: For Reuben, Elizur son of Sheddeur…”

This is the exact opposite of democracy. Not only is the leader appointed, but so are ALL of the community leaders? Talk about oppressive. 

Pure democracy is a slow, agonizing headache. In a world where the government works properly (definitely not this world; this world is a full-blown study on What Not to Do), we, as citizens, use our vote to outsource the job of government. We have other shit to do. Not everyone wants to spend half their week obsessing over politics. 

The answer, as always, is somewhere in the middle. The autocrats who fight against democracy are engaged in an exercise in futility. The democratic cat is out of the bag and it’s here to stay. At the same time, politics takes up way too much of our brain space now. 

Outside of campaign finance and election reform, one way to introduce an easier form of democracy would be through the widespread adoption of ratification votes. It shouldn’t just be for politics, either; we should use it for corporations as well. 

Let’s say your corporation needs to appoint a new CEO. Instead of the current CEO or board of directors choosing a candidate unilaterally, the employee base must ratify their suggestion. Leadership can still propose a candidate, but the employees get to decide. If they say no, it triggers elections. And even once the candidate is confirmed through ratification, they face a ratification vote every… I don’t know, maybe every couple of years? One they can't campaign for.

Elections are annoying and exhausting, and nobody wants to deal with them unless absolutely necessary. Sometimes, the position is so important as to be worth it, like in the case of political leaders. That’s where campaign and election reform come in. Other times, you might choose to sacrifice elections for efficiency. If an elected official is doing a good job, why not just keep a ratification vote until they’re no longer doing a good job, at which point they fail their ratification vote and trigger elections for someone else to do the job? 

However we apply democracy, the passage describes the exact opposite - a system based on pure favoritism. 

Numbers 1:17-18*

“Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by [their] names. They gathered together the entire assembly on the first of the second month, and they established their genealogy according to their families, according to their fathers’ household.” 

The obsession with genealogy has wrought so much damage to humanity’s psyche. It ossifies archaic class structures, disincentivizes people to adopt children based on shared personhood, and creates a hierarchy where none is needed. 

What do we actually gain by knowing where or who we come from? We gain a hell of a lot socially: a sense of belonging, some measure of respect, and an “identity,” but none of these things are intrinsic. Society has defined their parameters, not humanity, which means they can change. 

Outside of the trauma of abandonment, there are at least two serious issues with adoption in our world. First, in a sick world, understanding our genetic predisposition to certain health issues can be a matter of life or death. However, if we lived in a world where health was the rule instead of the exception, understanding genetic predispositions takes on less necessity.

Second, some people who adopt do it for selfish reasons. But again, if we were to rid ourselves of these social constructs, adopted families would be freed to see the commonalities between each other because of our shared status as people. We could widen our social definition of “belonging” and increase its unit of measurement to everyone on Earth instead of the nuclear family.

I’m not arguing against the concept of family; instead, I want us to dissolve the limits we put on our concept of family. Perhaps one day, familial DNA won’t matter, and we can focus on Earth-based DNA instead. We could easily blend our families when we encounter people or animals who vibe with our family rhythm.

Numbers 1:20*

“These were the sons of Reuben, firstborn of Israel, their offspring according to their families… every male from twenty years of age and up, everyone who goes out to the legion.” 

The only valuable people were military-aged men. For all the accouterments attached to ancient Israelite society, it was fundamentally militaristic, and its militarism continues today. 

Numbers 1:49*

“‘But you shall not count the tribe of Levi, and you shall not take a census of them among the Children of Israel.’” 

The classic tactic of elevating one segment of the population above the rest for some mystical reason also conveniently furthers the aims of power structures by dividing and conquering. 

As context, both branches of the Jewish genealogical tree contribute to your place in Jewish society. Your father determines your tribe, while your mother determines if you’re Jewish. There’s no escape. Some people claim to be able to trace their lineage back to this very moment in the text! 

Based on your great-great-great-great-so-many-more-great grandfather, you, too, could have special privileges to minister to your people. 

I know I said just last week that maybe Indigenous people form an intrinsic connection with the land and assume the status of caretakers through generations of knowledge, but I think I was wrong. Every argument about a specific set of people having an intrinsic biological or spiritual connection to a specific region of land is false. We can do it if that’s what we decide to devote our lives to. There’s nothing predetermined about it. 

The same thing goes for caretaking of the Earth. Indigenous tribes often find themselves in the position of being Earth’s caretakers because they stepped up when no one else would. Still, anyone could have this path open to them if they approached Earth with respect and an intention to learn. 

Indigenous people deserve their land because it was theirs; it was stolen from them, and they don’t want to leave. It’s simple. No one should be able to forcibly displace another person from their home. It’s not a biological connection to their homeland; it’s an argument against colonialism. 

Numbers 2:2-3*

“The Children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignia of their fathers’ household…Those who encamp to the front, at the east, shall be the banner of the camp of Judah…” 

The favoritism just never stops. 

Numbers 3:1-6*

“These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the firstborn was Nadab, and Abihu, Elazar, and Ithamar. These were the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed Kohanim, whom he inaugurated to minister. Nadab and Abihu died before Hashem when they offered an alien fire before Hashem in the Wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children…

Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Bring near the tribe of Levi and have it stand before Aaron the Kohen, and they shall serve him.’”

I go back and forth on whether I think Aaron fully participated in a conspiracy to let Moses kill his sons to consolidate power in the hands of the priesthood or whether he found out about Moses’ scheming and decided to milk it for personal gain. 

Either way, if we forget the cultural conditioning surrounding this story, it was a classic example of quid pro quo. Yes, Moses killed Aaron’s sons, but in exchange, Aaron’s entire lineage got permanently elevated status and tons of benefits. 

People do crazy things for the sake of “legacy.” 

Numbers 3:12-13*

“Behold! I have taken the Levites from among the Children of Israel, in place of every firstborn… the Levites shall be Mine. For every firstborn is Mine: On the day I struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified every firstborn in Israel for Myself.” 

It wasn’t enough for Aaron’s descendants to get forever benefits. The Israelites also had to feel grateful to the priests because the absurdly privileged priests had graciously accepted the position of martyrs? Because when God slaughtered all of Egypt’s firstborn on their behalf, in exchange for this act of genocide, He demanded their firstborn sons and livestock… forever? 

Emily Hand is a small child who was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th. Thomas Hand, her father, has given interviews in front of his now-released daughter admitting that he felt relieved when he thought his daughter had died on October 7th because it meant she hadn’t been captured. 

Modern Israel has arrived at the inevitable endpoint of this idea of people-as-sacrifice, where now parents are given the privilege to sacrifice their children for the state even when it’s unnecessary. 

Numbers 3:23-25*

“The Gershonite families would encamp behind the Tabernacle, to the west… The charge of the sons of Gershon in the Tent of Meeting was the Tabernacle, the Tent, its Cover, the Screen of entrance of the Tent of Meeting…”

Would you like some hierarchy on top of your hierarchy? Once you introduce hierarchy, especially an inflexible one, it never stops. It keeps chomping up divisions until there’s nothing left. 

Numbers 3:45-48*

“Take the Levites in place of every firstborn of the Children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock, and the Levites shall be Mine, I am Hashem. And as for the redemptions of the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the Children of Israel who are in excess of the Levites; you shall take five shekels each according to the head count, in the sacred shekel shall you take; the shekel is twenty geras. 

You shall give the money to Aaron and his sons, as redemptions of the additional ones among them.”  

Jeez. Being a priest pays. 

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.



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