Every Jew Counts, Because Every Jew Counts

We are standing just a few days before Matan Torah. Each of us, individually, is gathering at the foot of the mountain. We have almost completed counting the 50 days since we left Egypt.

But this year, it appears that the count to Sinai has paled in significance to the count of days since the war began. The count of the hostages still held in enemy hands. The count of the those who have given their lives in defense of our land.

Counting is a fraught process. Indeed, the Torah prohibits us from counting Jews.

Assigning numbers to Jews conjures frightening historical nightmares. And yet, we are beginning Sefer Bamidbar – which Chazal refer to as Sefer HaPikudim – the book of Counting (or Numbers). In this Sefer, the very first charge Hashem issues to Moshe is to count the nation.

When is it ok to count? When is it forbidden?

To understand this contradiction, we need to examine the root of the problem: What exactly is wrong with counting?

Chazal (בבא מציעא מב א) explain:

אמר רבי יצחק: אין הברכה מצויה אלא בדבר הסמוי מן העין Rabbi Yitzchak says: Bracha, blessing, is only found in those things that remain hidden from the eye.

Rabbeinu Bachya (שמות ל׳:י״ב) explains that the world is filled with miracles. Small instances when Hashem reaches out to us, and makes things work in our favor.

We’ve all had days or moments that seem uniquely serendipitous.

Sometimes, we make every light while rushing to that important appointment. Sometimes we guess the right answer on the multiple choice test – just enough to score an A. Sometimes the plane is also delayed, as we sit sweating behind a stalled truck on the highway. Sometimes the right person picks up the phone unexpectedly.

Sometimes life seems to have just enough mystery that we can see Hashem's hand. But the moment we insist on measuring, we offer God an ultimatum: Either remove His hand, or perform an open miracle. And not all of us merit open miracles.

By rejecting the urge to measure so precisely, we invite Hashem into our lives. So what if the chances are slim? If Hashem wants it, He'll find a way to make it work. This, of course, is Hashem's bracha to Avraham: Your children will be like the stars of the Heavens – impossible to measure.

Why then, would Hashem instruct Moshe to count us? The opening of our Sefer is perplexing:

שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת כל זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם.

Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names...

If we are indeed beyond measure and if counting removes Hashem's hand, how could Hashem command such a thing?

This question is addressed by Rashi in his opening comments on the Parsha:

מתוך חיבתן לפניו מונה אותן כל שעה Out of His great love, Hashem counts us at every opportunity.

Rashi is not simply addressing the surprising frequency of censuses in the Torah. Instead, he is offering a rationale behind the concept in its entirety. Hashem is not calculating the total number of discrete individuals in the nation.

There is a difference between measuring and counting. The subtly is not linguistic; it’s a question of intent. The prohibition is to measure. But Hashem is commanding us to count. Measuring seeks to evaluate sum; the size of thewhole. But counting sees each item as an individual.

Whenever the Torah instructs Moshe to count the Jewish people, it is only to educate that each person counts.

The Shela HaKodosh explains: The language of the Torah is beautiful and specific: שאו את ראש – to raise up each head. That is to say, each person is a head, a leader, in charge and in control of our lives. This unique perspective is further educated through the Torah's language of במספר שמות – a count of names. This is a roll-call, not a tally.

This also explains why Hashem, in His infinite knowledge, doesn't simply tell Moshe the total, but instead commands him to count. The purpose here is to make each person feel important, and that can only be done by actively counting, not simply measuring.

The Emunas Yisrael of Grodsisk (the nephew of the Aish Kodesh) teaches that before the Jewish people could receive the Torah, Hashem gathered us by the mountain and told us:

וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.

This was not a call issued to one person or one group. This uniqueness was gifted to each and every Jew. It’s a powerful weapon in the hands of The Yetzer Hara that whispers that we might not belong. It’s an answer to the voice that says “You didn't get the right education... You weren't born into the right family... You don't have the background, the yichus, the financial means... You don't belong.”

This promise is our greatest defense against the voices that cry “this type of Jew doesn’t count.” Not true, says Hashem: You're all my people. Each and every Jew.

Seferias HaOmer is an exercise in learning how to count. We are learning how to make each day count and how to see that each Jew counts.

So we count the days, we count the weeks. We count the months in tunnels under Gaza, and the soldiers that have fallen. We count them because they count. Because it matters. It all matters, all the time.

This counting does not remove Hashem’s Hand from our lives. On the contrary, by displaying our love, care and concern for each of His children, we are inviting Hashem to play a greater and more revealed role. By taking our days seriously, we are indicating our appreciation of the great gift of time.

Most importantly, we count as a statement of purpose. We need these days; we need these Jews, because Hashem world is incomplete without them. Once again, we will need to stand unified at the foot of the mountain preparing to receive the Torah. But there can be no unity until we see that every Jew counts.

So we keep on counting. Even if we missed a day, we keep on counting.

Even if we misspoke, messed up, and mistreated another Jew. We keep counting each other, so we can count on each other.

Let’s work on becoming the people Hashem can count on us as well.