Ksav Sofer writes that these two interpretations go hand in hand, ha b’ha talya. Given the sin of cheit ha’eigel, the meraglim at first glance had good reason to think that Bnei Yisrael would not have the merit to be zocheh to conquer Eretz Yisrael. Why bother trying? Yet the count in our parsha undermined that argument. Hashem showed that despite the eigel, he still had tremendous love for Bnei Yisrael. Paradoxically, it was the “se’u” of love that led to the “se’u” of loss of life in punishment for the meraglim’s error.
2)After the count of the shevatim, the Torah devotes itself (1:47-53) to telling us the responsibilities of sheivet Levi, who Moshe was commanded not to count. The perek then ends with the statement that seems completely out of place: “ Bnei Yisrael did all that Hashem commanded to Moshe…” (1:54) Shouldn’t this pasuk have come before the discussion of the role of the Levi’im, as a conclusion and coda to the count of the other shevatim? What does what Bnei Yisrael did have to do with the mission of the Levi’im?
The Midrash answers that what Bnei Yisrael did is vacate the space around the Mishkan so that the tribe of Levi could have their place and fulfill their role.
The Sefas Emes and Shem m’Shmuel highlight this Midrash as telling us something of crucial significance. The Levi’im had the privilege of camping close to the Mishkan, of working in the Mishkan. Surely these were not easy things for the rest of Bnei Yisrael to give up. It must have been as hard as, l’mashal, a motivated, spiritual girl giving up the privilege of wearing tefillin. Aren’t we supposed to want to be close to G-d? But it doesn’t work that way. Closeness to G-d is not about geographical space, e.g. being closer to the Mishkan, or doing what seems like a more spiritually uplifting job, but rather is about accepting G-d’s will, even if you perceive it as a regression and as a step away from Him.
3) The Seforno notes that the count in our parsha was a count of individuals – “b’mispar sheimos.” Each person came to Moshe and introduced himself. Not so the count in Pinchas, which was a count of families. The Shem m’Shmuel in a number of pieces contrasts kedusha klalis of the am, the sheiveit, the family, with the kedusha pratis of the individual. The parsha opens with two phrases that define location: “b’midbar Sinai” and “b’ohel mo’ed.” The Zohar sees this as s hint to a double counting, one for Torah (=Sinai), one for avodah (=Ohel Moed). The Zohar doesn’t mean there were two events, but rather that the one count had a double-significance, a significance in terms of the klal as well as in terms of the prat. When it comes to doing mitzvos, avodah, the same standard applies across the board to whoever is obligated in mitzvos. One person doesn’t get a pass to keep only 38 of the 39 melachos just because he/she may have a problem with one of them. When it comes to learning, however, each individual is responsible only to use the brains Hashem has given to the best of his/her ability. For one person that may mean learning Bavli and Yerushalmi, while for another person learning the parsha with Rashi is enough.
If in this count, as the Seforno writes, the focus was on the individual, why did that person have to identify (as Rashi explains) which family and which sheivet he came from? R' Moshe Tzuriel explains that the Torah is teaching us the importance of roots. There is a long chain of people standing behind each and every one of us, looking over our shoulders. Don't let them down.