For years I've wondered if the super-verbose intro to Bamidbar, with the censuses and camps and whatnot, is designed to give us a sense of how big and unmanageable the nation was, as an introduction to the stories where it in fact turns out to be unmanageable.
After seeing verse 14:29 this year, I'm convinced:
בַּמִּדְבָּר הַזֶּה יִפְּלוּ פִגְרֵיכֶם וְכָל-פְּקֻדֵיכֶם, לְכָל-מִסְפַּרְכֶם, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וָמָעְלָה: אֲשֶׁר הֲלִינֹתֶם, עָלָי.
It uses every key word from the beginning of the book - bamidbar, pekudim, mispar, miben esrim. It seems (to me) to be referring back to those stories, just as those stories (I assume) refer in part to here.
The story of the spies concludes a series of disastrous events, beginning with the "mit'onnenim" in Behaalotecha. Here we reach absolute bottom, where the triumphant journey to Israel is entirely called off, until all the men die and are replaced by others.
The census was a triumphant moment, a demonstration of the people's power and potential. But as we see, it also contained the seeds of their destruction.
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