The parsha is the first in the book of B’midbar (Numbers). The book is the tale of Israel traveling through the Wilderness toward the “Promised Land.” This first parsha formally begins the journey.
The first concept is the physical instantiation of G~d moving from Sinai to the Tent of Meeting. The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night was a continual sign for Israel that G~d was present in their midst. This must have been an awesome sight and continual reminder of the change in process from pagan worship to monotheism. Even this continual revelation of G~d was not enough at times to keep the nation of Israel perfectly on track. The “presence” move into the midst of the people is a dramatic change in thinking from a distant G~d, or an idol, to G~d among us. It begins the transformation of G~d thinking to a personal, relational model. In a way this is the beginning of return to the relationship of Man and G~d we see in the Eden story of Genesis 1 through 3.
The second concept is a marker in time, a census, to establish a new beginning. This is the marker for a “new order” in the Creation. In this new order we find G~d as a parent, trainer, and leader. G~d establishes “skilled labor” for this task, the Levites. They are to do the “work” of G~d, both interceding (Priests) and teaching (Levites) by example. The role is shifted from everyone participating, through the first born of each family, to the specific family of the tribe of Levi. This change should compel us to think about specialization versus generalization.
Here are some study notes: