I'm confused? Is it Pesach? Mah Nishtanah? Huh?!
There is another reason for this BaMidbar census:
The last counting in Parshas Ki-Sisa took place after the Golden Calf incident. Many Jews were killed due to this tragic episode, so that counting was to see how many Jews were left over. In fact, the census itself was part of the forgiveness process. Every Jew gave a half-Shekel coin, which was used for the building of the Mishkan.
Also, Moshe, and not his brother Aharon, was in charge of the counting, for the simple reason that Aharon was involved in making the Golden Calf. After all, how would it look right if he, Aharon, would be the one in charge of collecting the half-Shekel coins?!
However, this census in BaMidbar is a totally different story. It began just one month after the completion of the Holy Mishkan. The Shechinah of HaShem once again came down, which was a sign that Bnei Yisrael were totally forgiven for their sin. In fact, now HaShem wanted both Moshe and his brother Aharon to be in charge of the counting, to show that Aharon, and the others involved in the sin, were completely forgiven.
Also, let’s not forget that having been camped near Mount Sinai for almost a year, it was finally time for Bnei Yisrael to travel out of the desert and conquer the Land of Israel. That means WAR and that’s a very good reason to count the number of soldiers who would be eligible to go to battle.
Pretty exciting news! Finally, Bnei Yisrael were on their way to the Promised Land. Little did anyone realize that due to an unfortunate “spies” episode, to be mentioned later in Parshas Shelach, they wouldn’t enter the land for close to 40 years!
In the last census, mentioned at the beginning of Parshas Pekudei, HaShem was interested in nothing but the grand total of Bnei Yisrael, which came out to 603,350. There was no mention of the amounts of each tribe.
However, here in Parshas BaMidbar HaShem wanted each tribe to be counted separately – the tribe of Reuven, 46,500; the tribe of Shimon, 59,300… all the way to the last tribe counted; the tribe of Naftali, 53,400.
And the grand total of that count? The same amount as last census, 603,350!