Sign In Forgot Password

you count

2020-05-18 01:09:16 PM


Rabbi Boris Dolin

The day you were born was the day God decided the universe could no longer exist without you.

-Rebbe Nachman of Bretzlav

This week as the weather warms and we make our way into summer, we also begin a new book of the Torah, Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers.  Far from the family stories Genesis, the drama of the Exodus, and the mysterious details of Leviticus, we begin this new stage of the journey of the Jewish people with lists.   We read a list of the Israelite tribes, a description of their ancestry, their different roles and the land that will be given to them.  While read alone, a list may not tell much of a story, the lists of Bamidbar explore the notion of how we recognize people in our community, and how people are “counted” by both God and each other.  

Why begin the book of Bamidbar with counting?  The commentaries explain that counting and listing  expresses God’s love and care for God’s people.  This may seem a bit counterintuitive, since a census by definition divides people into numbers and basic qualities, instead of recognizing the uniqueness of each individual. How could this be seen as loving and caring?

The most literal Hebrew word for counting in the Torah  is cheshbon.  But throughout the Torah a different word, pekudim, is also used.  In fact the midrashic name for the book of Numbers is Sefer Pekudim, “The Book of Counting”.  Many forms of this word are used throughout the Torah and Prophets:

To remember, as in “God remembered (pakad) Sarah . . . and Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son to Abraham”(Genesis 21:1).

To be missed,  in the haftorah about David and Jonathan: “David’s place was missing (vayipakeid)”.

To assign, in the responsibilities of the Levites: “And the assignment of (pekudat) the Merari family”(Numbers 3:36).

Destiny, as in Korach’s rebellion: “And the destiny (pekudat) of all men will be brought upon them”(Numbers 16:29).

Accounting, when Moses gives an accounting for all the donations to construct the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert: “This is the accounting (pekudei) of the Tabernacle”(Exodus 38:21).

There are many uses of this verb, but they all center around the same idea: “to take notice.” When God remembers Sarah, God takes notice of her and blesses her with a child.   David is absent from King Saul’s table, and his absence is noticed. The Levites are noted for their assignment and special role in the Mishkan. 

When God tells Moses to take a census of the Jewish people, God says pekod, to take notice of them.  While this is a census of numbers, this is also a time to make sure that everyone in the community is recognized and seen for their unique role in the building of the Jewish family.  In the census of Moses, everyone is needed to make the community strong.

This act of recognition, of noticing each other for the unique role they can play in our lives is the foundation for creating a strong community that can survive into the future.

Sun, August 9 2020 19 Av 5780