Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Book of Numbers? What does that mean?

Q. As we dive into the fourth book of the Torah, I can’t help but wonder, why exactly is the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, called Chomesh Hapekudim, or The Book of Numbers?

A. In this week’s parsha, Hashem commands that Bnai Israel conduct another census. Throughout the Torah, there have already been three other accounts of the Jews being counted:
1.     When the members of Yakov’s family traveled to Egypt, the Torah records there being seventy people.
2.     When the Jews left Egypt the Torah records that 600,000 men departed. (Hashem called for a second count to show how plentiful the Jewish nation became in such a short time, despite any plans to exterminate the Jewish people.
3.     On eleven of Tishrei, after the sin of the Golden Calf, the Jews were counted a third time.

What is the sense of all this counting? Why does Hashem need to count the people? Doesn’t He already know how many people there are? What is going on here?

One purpose for this additional counting, according to Gur Aryeh, was to ascertain each member of Bnai Israel’s ancestry. Seeing that the Mishkan- tabernacle or temple in the desert- had been inaugurated for one month, this area was Bnai Israel’s permanent home. So to, because the area had been established as permanent, Hashem’s shechina-Divine presence- was now permanently established in the Mishkan. Moreover, it is appropriate to have each family aware of their lineage so that the shechina can rest accordingly on each family.

Additionally, in this week’s parsha, the Jews were counted a fourth time, on the 1st of Iyar, because Hashem had scheduled for the Jews to enter the land of Israel twenty days later (of course this was before the sin of the spies, which caused the infamous forty year sojourn throughout the wilderness). The purpose of this count was to determine which men would qualify to serve in the army to conquer the land of Israel.

Furthermore, Hashem counts the Jewish people as many times as He does for one reason: Bnai Israel is a precious nation to Hashem. When something is precious to someone, one calculates it with much more scrutiny (For example: a diamond dealer counts his stones over and over for accuracy, after a work day businesses meticulously count their daily earnings). Every single Jew is valuable to Hashem. From the many times Hashem counts the Jewish people, we can see how treasured we truly are to Him. Rather than feeling like another “Jew amongst the crowd,” each and every single one of us should take pride in the fact that Hashem, the creator of infinite wisdom, who is so great that we can never cease to imagine His wondrous ways, cares about each and every single one of us individually! That alone is a lot to swallow, so sip slowly and remember how significant you are in the eyes of the Holy One.

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