Bamidbar: Counting means love

Things of value require counting and cataloging. That is human nature. 

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Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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The necessity to continually count the Jewish people, evidenced in this week’s Torah reading and, in fact, in the balance of the text of the remainder of this book of the Torah, remains a perplexing issue.  The rabbis of the Talmud and the later commentators to the Torah saw this continual counting of the Jewish people as a sign of God’s love for Israel. 

A person who has rare valuables or a refined collection of art or another type of memorabilia views the collection often, and with personal satisfaction and even on exhibit for others to admire. People count their change when purchasing items from a store and review their bank statements on a regular basis. Things of value require counting and cataloging. That is human nature. 

The Lord, so to speak, shows His respect and His hopeful investment in the Jewish people by counting and cataloging them on a regular basis. The rabbis recognized this human characteristic of counting things that we deem to be of worth and value by stating that when one recites prayers one should do so as though counting money or valuable coins. There apparently is no better metaphor for care, respect and even love of the object – in this case, prayer – than comparing it to actually counting money. 

The rabbis again reinforced this idea by stating that items that are sold by the count are not subject to the usual laws of cancellation and nullification. Each item, if it is counted, has a unique value that is not subject to comparisons and absorption by other items.

All countries and organizations take a regular accounting of their inhabitants, members and affiliates. There are many practical reasons for so doing but again, ultimately, it is an expression of worth, respect and even affection. Throughout the books of the prophets we find that regular counts of the Jewish people took place in biblical times. Because of the essence of human beings, every one being different and unique, the Jewish tradition has always been to conduct such counts in an indirect fashion. 

In our current society where government supervision of individuals is omnipresent, we always have a current and quite accurate count of the population of the country at any given moment. This would be an exaggeration for me to state that the government does so as an expression of its love for its citizens and inhabitants. Nevertheless, it is a measure of importance and the count tells us a great deal about the progress and direction of our society. 

One of the great miracles that the State of Israel represents to us is the enormous growth of the Jewish population living in this country over the past century. The early Zionist leaders had a wild dream that eventually there would be five million Jews living here. We have lived to see that number greatly surpassed in the span of this last century. This also is an example of the love that Heaven has for the land and people of Israel.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein






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