This week we start reading the fourth of the five books of the Torah.
The fourth is named Numbers, because it starts off with Moses being commanded to count the Jewish people and their numbers listed per tribe.
However, conducting a census of the Jewish people has not always been so simple.
Around 500 years later, when King David also decides to conduct a census of the Jewish people, his counting is opposed by his army commander, Yoav ben Tzeruah, and broadly regarded as a serious sin, which resulted in 70,000 Jews dying.
Clearly, it’s not just about the numbers.
The words used here are bemispar shemot, which translates literally as “counting by name”.
Not a simple numerical counting, but a counting of each and every person by their name. Rabbi Meir L Wisser, more commonly known as the Malbim, says this clearly denotes a counting of individuals as opposed to a count that was purely numerical. This counting was personal.
The Malbim points out that when counting is done simply to get a total, all individuality is lost.
Those counted become simply a drop in the ocean that make up a number, completely removing the value and power of each individual who was counted.
Judaism believes more than anything in the value of each and every individual. Removing this also removes the very fabric that joins us together as a nation.
Counting needs to be done individually by name, where every single person counted is irreplaceable and valued for who they are, not merely one of the millions that make up a nation.
The lesson being taught here is simple – as much as we’re part of a larger nation that’s integral to our success and survival, most of all it’s the individual who needs to be respected.
- Rabbi Dovid Lichtig is managing director of Aish UK