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Parashat Bemidvar: Know Who You Can Count On

"Numbers" begins with a census of the Israelites. That's why this book is known in English (and also in Spanish) as "Numbers." Since this is the third census of the Jewish people within a year, why was it important to do this again? Is this census special?

The answer lies in the phrase the Torah uses to describe the act of census-taking: se’u et rosh, literally "lift the head." This is a strange, indirect expression. Biblical Hebrew has many verbs meaning "to count": limnot, lifkod, lispor, lajshov. Why doesn't the Torah use one of these words and instead chooses the twisted expression "lift the heads" of the people?


People in a mass become anonymous. Their consciousness is silenced. They lose their sense of personal responsibility. Crowds have a curious tendency towards regressive behavior, primitive reactions, and instinctive behavior. Crowds can easily be led by exploiters and manipulators who perceive people's fears and sense of victimization and incite them to hate and attack other groups. We are experiencing this day by day. A Machiavellian plan that has been infiltrating agents of negative propaganda towards Israel in governments, colleges, universities, and even in UNRWA.


Crowds have the effect of making the individual abandon their own judgment and follow what others do. However, our tradition subtly teaches us that it should not be so.

In the Mishna, the basis of the Talmud, which over the years has generated what we call Halacha, Jewish Law, every dissenting view is carefully recorded, even if the enacted law dictates otherwise. Every verse of the Torah is capable of being interpreted, according to the sages, in seventy different ways. Even confronting the most respected minds, no voice, no vision is silenced. This does not lead to anarchy. There is a decision that is also respected by dissenters.


It's a game of democracy that our people have been playing for more than 2000 years.


But let's go back to the census that calls us in Bemidvar. In any census, when counting or taking attendance, there is a tendency to focus on the total: the population, the crowd, the mass. The higher the figure, the greater the military might, the more popular the team, the more successful the results.


Counting devalues ​​the individual and tends to make them replaceable. If a soldier dies in battle, another will take his place. If a person leaves an organization, another can be incorporated to do their job.


There is, therefore, a danger in counting a nation, that each individual feels insignificant. "What am I? What difference can I make? I am just one among millions, a mere wave in the ocean, a grain of sand on the shore, dust on the surface of the infinite." Then God told Moses to "lift the heads of the people", se’u et rosh, and show them that each one counts, everyone is important as individuals. Lifting someone's head is equivalent to showing them favor, to recognizing them. If a census is taken in that way, it is a gesture of love. This census, and the language used to describe it, sends a clear message: in Judaism, we believe that every individual matters.


The sufficiency of a society to build and defend itself, from its enemies, is based on the collaboration of all members of the people to the same extent.


The principle of equal partnership is much broader. A society will find it difficult to finance and build itself if only some of its members bear the burden and public effort, whether it be military, political, or economic. We must all vote, we must all pay our taxes, we must all contribute to keeping our congregations financially and economically healthy, and also with members participating in the activities that make people feel "at home" in the congregation.


Of course, we must all be part of the defense of our people. In Israel, as part of the IDF, regardless of belief or current within Judaism. From our place in the diaspora, we are part of an army outside of Israel of millions of Jews who must worry and take care to ensure that the state of Israel remains standing triumphantly. Even with the dissent we may have with the actions of the current government.


Social collaboration is in Judaism, not only a goal but fundamentally an essential moral value to strengthen the capabilities and sustainability of society and the State of Israel. Recruitment into the Israel Defense Forces is a central expression of this. Social collaboration is not about just caring for the poor.


Meanwhile, it is not because of a census, but we continue to count. We count the days that have passed since October 7, the months, it's already 8 today! The kidnapped who are still in the hands of Hamas, the soldiers who have fallen and continue to fall.


We keep on counting, even when the Counting of the Omer is arriving to its end - not with spurious propaganda, but by counting bodies, souls, families, and lives severed by barbarism.


I count too, but I do it in the light of the census of Bamidbar with the clarity and conviction that those who have no physical impediment of any kind can participate, and if they do not accept to bear their share of the burden, as members of the people of Israel, we should probably consider, as the Torah does, that they are not eligible to be part of the active society in Am Israel. Simply, we do not count on them.


Am Israel Chai!!


Shabbat Shalom, and have a good month.


Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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