A matter of Arithmetic

Within the blessings that G-d blesses the people of Israel in this week's Torah portion, there seems to be a mistake in the calculation.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

Mathematics is a very important subject, but even in our daily lives individual mathematical calculations do not always work out. "One plus one does not always equal two" an insurance agent once told me regarding purchasing two insurance policies for the same property, as having double insurance for one property can often just complicate matters.

And in our weekly parsha the “accounting” does not seem to equal up. When the Torah describes at the beginning of Parshat Bechukotai the blessings that we will merit when we obey the commandments of G-d, it says: “And 100 (enemies) will run away from 5 (of Israel’s soldiers), and 100 of you will chase away 10,000 and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” Every elementary school student can see that there is a “mistake” in the calculations: If five Jews will overcome one hundred enemies, the ratio is one to twenty, and so one hundred Jewish soldiers are supposed to be able to overcome 2,000 enemies, not 10,000!

However, when Israel is unified the power and strength which we receive from the unification does not maintain relativity, but multiplies immeasurably as the union grows stronger. Therefore, the power of one hundred is not a power of five times twenty, but is a much greater power. And therefore Rashi says about the above verse: "How is the calculation correct? Shouldn’t it say that one hundred will pursue two thousand? No, because one can not compare a few who follow the teachings of the Torah to many who follow the teachings of the Torah."

It seems that many times we do not pay attention to this rule. For example, we are used to differentiating between an individual and a minyan, because when there is a minyan the full tefilla can be recited. But once there is a minyan we do not pay attention to how large the minyan grows. The Torah comes to teach us here that as much as there is multiplicity, even if halakhically it has no impact, spiritually there is a greater spiritual power which can influence what happens in our lives - "with multitudes we honor the King".

Yet there is one condition necessary for the multiplicity to bring blessing: All of the participants must accord respect to one another. We are currently in the days of the counting of the Omer in which we mourn the deaths of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva who died at this time of year because they did not respect one another. Rabbi Akiva had the largest yeshiva in the world, 24,000 students!, but despite the immense numbers of Torah scholars, their end was tragic. Because when there are multitudes of a people who are together but do not honor each other, not only is there no “vessel” into which G-d can pour His blessing, but rather the multiplicity causes more disagreements and separation.

In our generation, we have merited a huge increase in the number of the people of Israel in the Land of Israel. The very ingathering of millions of sons and daughters in the Land of Israel, after almost two thousand years in the Diaspora, is an unparalleled divine grace. But in order for this increase to lead to great blessing, and not the opposite, G-d forbid, we must increase unity among the nation of Israel.

During this week, in which we are mourning our brothers who were killed in Meiron, and feeling the pain of the families of the dead and injured, we must remind ourselves that brotherly love for our entire nation is not a luxury, it is the critical ingredient that brings us, the people of Israel, life and blessing.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Organization and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in.