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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bamidbar: Every one counts
G'd commands Moses to take a census of the Jewish people. Due to G'd's special love for the Jewish people, He commanded that they should be counted regularly. It is common knowledge that when items are important or dear to a person, he will keep a constant exact count of these items. Each and every individual Jew has a special value to G'd. Cain was condemned not just for killing Abel, but G'd considered it as if he had killed all of Abel's potential descendants. "Whoever destroys one Jewish soul is considered as if he destroyed the whole world. Whoever sustains a single Jewish soul is considered as if he sustained a whole world." It is incumbent on every individual to utilize their special abilities for the benefit of their fellow human beings and to sanctify the name of G'd. If a leader wants to encourage every individual of a society or a nation to maximize their abilities for the benefit of the public, it can only be done by lifting their heads to show how every one is special and important. Every Jewish child is entitled as a birthright to a proper Jewish education to explain them the privilege of being a member of G'd's Chosen Nation. The Chofetz Chaim used to say that our most precious commodity is time, as lost time can never be recovered.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, G'd commands Moses to take a census of the Jewish people and says (Bamidbar 1:2) "Lift up the head of the assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to the house of their fathers, by the number of their names, every male according to their head count."
G'd's special love
Despite that this count only included the males between twenty and sixty eligible for army service, Rashi explains that the regular counting of this group was due to G'd's special love for the entire Jewish people. When they left Egypt, G'd instructed that they should be counted. After they had been decimated at the sin of the golden calf, G'd again instructed that they should be counted to determine how many survived. And now after the erection of the Tabernacle, as G'd was letting his spirit dwell among their midst, He requested an additional count.
Count important items
It is common knowledge that when items are important or dear to someone, he will keep a constant exact count of these items. Already very young children will count how many toy cars or dolls they possess. This shows how important these toys are to them at that age. Later young teenagers collect stamps or other items that they spend hours organizing, counting, and showing to their friends. Most adults are very concerned about monitoring the accuracy of their bank balances and keep an exact account of their assets. Again, this is a reflection of the importance of a person's assets in our material-driven society.
Special value of every individual
G'd shows us how important and precious we are to Him by keeping an exact count of the Jewish people. He thereby demonstrates that we are not only important as a group, but each and every individual Jew has a special value. Prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai, G'd instructed Moses to warn the Jewish people not to ascend the mountain. As it says (Shemos 19:21) "Go down, warn the people, to ensure that they do not break through to G'd in order to see, and a multitude of them will fall." To this our sages comment that G'd meant that even if one individual would fall, it would be like a multitude (see Rashi ibid). G'd does not consider a person just as a single individual, but rather takes into account all future generations destined to emanate from this individual.
The "bloods" cry out
This concept is strongly emphasized in the Talmud. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 37a) says that witnesses who are about to give evidence in a case of capital punishment must be warned by the court about the severity of their testimony. Among other things, the rabbinic judges would say: "Not only the life of the accused is dependent on your testimony, but also the potential lives of all his descendants. So we find that when G'd confronted Cain after he had killed his brother Abel, He said to him (Bereishis 4:10) "What have you done? The bloods of your brother cry out to me." The word "bloods" is written in plural to indicate that Cain was condemned not just for killing Abel, but it was considered as if he had killed all of Abel's potential descendants."
Each soul is a world
The Rabbis further elaborated and said (Ibid) "Adam was created as a single entity (as opposed to every other creature that was created as both male and female) to teach you that whoever destroys one Jewish soul is considered as if he destroyed the whole world. And whoever sustains a single Jewish soul is considered as if he sustained a whole world."
However, every individual has their own special value. Everyone is born with a specific purpose that only that particular individual can fulfill. No two people are alike. For each of us to achieve our purpose, G'd blesses us with special abilities. But it is incumbent that we utilize our special abilities for the benefit of our fellow human beings and to sanctify the name of G'd.
Lift their heads
The Ramban comments on the fact that G'd instructed Moses to count the Jewish people with an expression of "lifting up their heads". This indicates the potential to raise them to higher levels. In order to succeed in educating children it is necessary to make every child feel special. Both the parents and the teachers must raise children up and show them their strengths in order to build their self-confidence. The same applies to adults. If a leader wants to encourage every individual of a society or a nation to maximize their abilities for the benefit of the public, it can only be done by lifting their heads to show how every single person is special and important. This was G'd's instruction to Moses: count the Jews and elevate them; show them how each of them is dear to G'd.
Birthright of Jewish education
In a time when we suffer from rampant assimilation and unprecedented intermarriage rates, the lesson of "lifting heads" is more important than ever. It is the duty of every Jewish parent to show their children how important they are to the Jewish nation and make them feel special and great about themselves. Every Jewish child is entitled as a birthright to a proper Jewish education to explain them the privilege of being a member of G'd's Chosen Nation. However, many parents feel that they cannot afford the expenses of a Jewish education. Can we stand by and watch how precious Jewish souls are lost to their heritage due to lack of funds? As a community, we have the means to educate every Jewish child. This is a holy obligation on the entire Jewish community to make sure and provide the necessary funds so that no child should ever be deprived of this right.
Every day counts
In a week's time we are going to celebrate the Festival of Shavuous commemorating the revelation at Mount Sinai, when G'd chose the Jewish people to be the recipients of the Torah. For forty nine days, we count the days towards this great event. The counting shows us not only the importance of this very special festival but also the importance of every day. Just as every individual has specific abilities to fulfill their purpose, so every day has specific opportunities that must be utilized. When the Torah describes Abraham it says (Bereishis 24:1) "And Abraham was old. He had come of days." The commentators point out that literally it says "He came with days" indicating that Abraham came with every single day fulfilled with purpose. No day was wasted. To the contrary, every day was utilized to its fullest potential. Abraham had come to the realization that their must be a Creator behind this beautiful world Who created it with a purpose. At the same time, he concluded that to achieve this purpose every individual must utilize their abilities every day allotted to them. As the Chofetz Chaim used to say, our most precious commodity is time, since "lost time can never be recovered."
As we are approaching Shavuous, the time of the giving of the Torah, it is up to every individual to make sure that we, and whoever we can influence, appreciate the uniqueness and specialty of this festival. We must all prepare ourselves to make our personal acceptance of the Torah so that we all together can fulfill our communal obligation to sanctify the name of G'd in this world.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network