This week’s parashah begins the book of Ba-Midbar, which opens with God commanding Moses to count.
Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to their fathers’ house, by number of the names, every male according to their head count; from twenty years of age and up – everyone who goes out to the army in Israel – you shall count them according to your armies.
This parashah is always read on the Shabbat immediately preceding the holiday of Shavuot. The text lists many names and numbers and describes the required set up of the camp and the organization of the tribes around the Mishkan.
The holiday of Shavuot marks the end of counting seven weeks from Passover, from the exodus from Egypt, until the Israelites received the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Why did God ask Moses to count the (over 20-year-old, male) Israelites? Was there a moral purpose to the census?
According to the Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, the counting was simply a practical and organizational matter. The Israelites were getting ready to enter the land of Israel where they would encounter enemies and battles, and God was asking Moses to take of stock of his soldiers and shape his army.
Rashi explains that God wanted the Israelites counted because of how dear they were to Him. When you are proud of something that is yours, when you love it so much, you take responsibility for it and keep track of it, and check up on it – you make sure to account for it regularly. And so God was doing with His people.
As we come upon the holiday of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah and with it, the founding of the Israelites as God’s nation, this census expresses the value of every individual within the larger group. Just as the text tells us that men, women and children were all around Mount Sinai to hear the commandments, so too does every individual have their place around the Mishkan.
Every person counts.
Every person has a contribution to make.
Every person has a responsibility.
A responsibility to ourselves as individuals, to the people in our different circles, and to the Jewish people.
We have counted down the days to the holiday of Shavuot and to receiving the Torah. Let us remember to value the potential of every individual and to count our blessings.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.