This week we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah. It is called by the name Bamidbar – meaning “In the Wilderness.” Our Sages refer to it as Chumash Hapekudim, meaning the “Book of Counting.” We indeed find that this book begins with the counting of the Jewish people. This would seem to be the reason for the English name of this book, Numbers.
This book begins with the words (Bamidbar 1:1-2) “Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Sinai Desert in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month. This was in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt. He said ‘Take the sum of all the Jewish people by families following their fathers’ houses. You shall take a head count of every male according to the number of their names.’” In the first verse Rashi cites the words “The Lord spoke… in the Sinai Desert… on the first of the month.” He explains that “Because they (the Jews) were precious to Him He counted them often. When they left Egypt He counted them (Shemos 12:37). When many fell because of the golden calf He counted them in order to know the number of the survivors (Shemos 32:28). When He came to cause His Presence to rest upon them (by erecting the Mishkan) He counted them. On the first of Nissan the Mishkan was erected. On the first of Iyar He counted them.”
This appears to be quite baffling. The reason for counting that which is precious is in order to know how much of it one has. There are people who will spend a great deal of time counting their money. The amount of money they have fluctuates, and it is their most precious possession. However, this obviously does not apply to the omniscient G-d!
The explanation is that counting expresses a special characteristic of that which is counted. Each “object” is counted as one; the greatest thing is not counted as any more than one, nor is the least significant thing counted as less than one. This expresses the greatness of each and every Jew. It has nothing to do with personal stature or accomplishment. Whether one is intelligent, refined or boorish, we each have a common denominator. Namely the soul which is clothed within us. The soul is a veritable part of G-d. Its essence is the “great equalizer.” From that perspective each of us is equal. That is the reason that G-d took a census. G-d expressed, i.e. revealed the greatness of each and every one of us.
This Parshah is always read before the festival of Shavuos, the time we received the Torah. Why did each and every one of us merit to receive Hashem’s law? Because just as the Torah is His Will and Wisdom, so too is every one of us a part of Him.
Wishing one and all a good Shabbos! May we all merit to receive the Torah in joy, and to internalize all of its holy teachings!
Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn