MAY 10-11, 2002 29 IYAR 5762
"Take a census of the entire assembly of the children of Israel." (Bemidbar 1:2)
The English name for this fourth book of the Torah is "Numbers." Although this is not the literal translation, which would be "in the wilderness," nonetheless the word "numbers" does reflect the theme of this week's perashah, which discusses the taking of a census of the Jews who were in the wilderness at that time.
At the very beginning, Rashi comments: "Because the people of Israel are beloved to the Almighty, He counts them frequently." The Jews had recently left the slavery of Egypt. During that time, the Jews got the label of slaves. They were lowered to become like sub-humans. Therefore Hashem counted them again and again to show, to us and to all, his great love and the importance of each individual.
Today we face a similar situation where the Jews in Israel are being killed and maimed. Little children are being shot and killed in their homes. Jewish blood looks cheap. In Europe, the murderers are being applauded, which again cheapens our blood. Therefore we should read this perashah more carefully. Sometimes we might find the perashah somewhat boring, hearing the numbers read again and again without an interesting story. Well, the time has come to relish every verse of this perashah, to feel proud about the name "Numbers." Hashem is telling us, "Don't let them get you down! Don't believe them when they tell you that you are a lowly nation. We Jews right now need to be told that we are great, greater than any other nation by far. Now is not the time for humility. Our leaders must speak to our people in the terms used in our perashah: "Lift up the heads of the children of Israel." Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And they gathered the entire nation on the first of the second month...according to the number of the names" (Bemidbar 1:18)
Hashem commanded Moshe to take a census of the Children of Israel by counting the "number of the names." The Ramban explains the meaning of counting the names: "Hashem told Moshe: 'Count each and every [member of Israel] with honor and dignity. Do not merely ask the head of each household how many children he has. Rather, everyone should pass before you with honor, and you should count them'." B'nei Yisrael deserved to be counted in person by Moshe.
The purpose of a census is a practical one: to ascertain the total population of a nation. The most efficient method is to ask the head of each household for data regarding his family. Having Moshe personally count each person was not only very inefficient, but extremely laborious and tiresome considering the numbers involved. (There were approximately three million Jews in the desert.) Why did Hashem trouble Moshe to exert himself to such an extent? Had Moshe asked the representative of each household for a tally of his family, the result would have been the same. Hashem was teaching Moshe and the Children of Israel the value and uniqueness of each and every person. No one can be treated as a mere number, even when he is being counted for a census. Moshe had to meet each member of B'nei Yisrael and show him the honor and respect he deserved, as a human being created in the image of Hashem.
When dealing with a group of people, be it a group of ten or ten thousand, we must be conscious of the fact that the group is comprised of individuals, each one unique and worthy of the entire world existing for his sake. Each person deserves the dignity and warmth of our personal attention, and cannot be looked upon as just a number. Every resident of our community, every member of our family, every co-worker at our job should be treated with the same care and sensitivity we ourselves would expect.
Sometimes just stopping to spend a few moments with another person, even if only long enough to share a smile and say "good morning," can do a great deal to raise his spirits and carry him through the rigors of his daily schedule. If we bear in mind the overwhelming love and concern Hashem has for each of His children, we will surely feel a natural desire to emulate His example. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel...and they established their genealogy" (Bemidbar 1:2,18)
Sefer Vayikra ends with the statement, "These are the commandments that G-d commanded Moshe to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai" (27:34). It is customary to look for connections between the end of one book and the beginning of the next. What is the connection between the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people and the counting of the Jews in Parashat Bemidbar?
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 684) relates that when the Jews were receiving the Torah, the other nations asked Hashem, "Why are You giving the Torah only to the Jews? We also want the Torah!" Hashem replied that they should bring their sefer yuchasin - records of family pedigree - to Him, just as My children, the Jews, are bringing their sefer yuchasin, as stated, "And they established their genealogy" (see Rashi). What was Hashem's intent?
This can be explained with the following parable: A father's biological son and foster son once became ill, and the doctor prescribed bitter medicines for both children. The father forced his biological son to swallow the medicine and he immediately felt better. The foster son, however, was not forced to take the medicine, and the illness lingered on. Later, the foster son asked his father why he had not also forced him to take the medicine. The father answered, "Once before when you were sick and the doctor gave you sweet medicine, I forced you to drink it. Since you then spat it out, I assumed that this time an attempt to force you to drink bitter medicine would be futile."
Hashem thus replied to the nations of the world, "I have already given you a 'sweet' Torah of only seven commandments and your book of heritage indicates your parents' record of poor observance. However, the Jews' sefer yuchasin depicts the devotion of their forefathers and establishes them as suitable recipients of the Torah."
Thus, the counting of the Jewish people based on their sefer yuchasin - records of pedigree - in the beginning of Bemidbar follows the end of Vayikra to indicate that Hashem gave the Torah and misvot to the Children of Israel because of their sefer yuchasin - their parents' good record of fulfilling misvot. (Vedibarta Bam)
This Week's Haftarah: Hoshea 2:1-22.
This haftarah begins with the prophet Hoshea saying that the nation of Israel shall be as plentiful as the sand of the sea. This follows the theme of our perashah which enumerates the numbers of each tribe of B'nei Yisrael.
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