The fact that we are numbers in this world is not new. We are the social security number, the driver's license number, and the passport number. We are numbers in
the statistics of those who navigate one website or another, and if you don't want to be involved in the digital world, then you become part of the statistics of those who do not browse the internet. You look at your phone, and your friends, family, and acquaintances are a 10-digit number. Nowadays, numbers govern and manage our lives and identify us.
That is not new either: for many years, we have been numbers.
The Torah portion of this week has an expression in its first verse that we should study carefully. "Take a census of the sons of Kehat - from among the sons of Levi - according to their families and their ancestral houses," it says, and the verb is always translated as "you shall count." The directive was to count the heads of the sons of Gershon, to take a census, to count how many there are. The Torah tells us in the book of Numbers about the different censuses that were taken at that time in the desert.
But the expression "naso" is not actually the one commonly used to express the concept of counting. Laset, the infinitive form of the verb naso, has to do with lifting, with raising. In other words, at the moment of the census, it is saying, "lift up the heads of the sons of Gershon."
This is a fantastic message because when we are counting, we could say, "Well, they are all numbers, it's just people that I am counting without taking into account that they are individuals. They are numbers to see how many people I have." It is not necessary to lift their heads when counting them. And yet Laset has to do with raising their heads at the moment of counting, and this means giving them value.
This is a very important change for the time. Let's imagine, for example, what happened in Egypt when Moses killed the Egyptian, which later led to his escape from Egypt and prepared him for what would become the Exodus of the People of Israel. When he killed the Egyptian, nobody cared. There is no account, at least in the Torah, that wants to show us that anyone cared about the Egyptian who died at the hands of Moses. At most, when two of his Hebrew brothers said to him, "Are you going to kill us like you killed the Egyptian?" But there is no other account, no lamentation. It's as if, like the Tower of Babel, an Egyptian dies and nothing happens, or a slave dies and nothing happens.
Laset. Lifting up the head at the moment of counting them, giving them importance. We have to make that change ourselves. When we look around us, when we see the people who accompany us, when we see those who work with us, who help us in the community or outside of it, our employees, those who help make things happen, we must laset otam, lift their heads, give them the importance they deserve.
How do we do that? Not only by respecting them. Not only by taking them into account or expressing gratitude. This sounds almost obvious. We must engage with them in the tasks they perform. Let what they do also be important to us. Not placing ourselves above anyone, but rather on the same level. Not assuming that things are going to be done just because there is someone who does them, without our getting involved with it.
As a small tale from Masechet Sanhedrin says, we should carry a note in one pocket that says, "For me, the world was created." We are so important that the world was created for us. Yes, indeed. And in the other pocket, we should have a note that says, "I am dust and ashes," because that's what we come from and what we will return to.
That's what we will be at some point.
Maintaining the balance between the two notes. When we suddenly feel that we are too much and that we simply count people, not as individuals but as mere participants in our lives who must fulfill their tasks for us, in our congregation, or our institutions to make them be there and exist. When we disregard the people around us or fail to give them the value they deserve, or when we ourselves don't give ourselves the place we deserve, then we must take out both notes from our pockets.
This week we have our annual meeting HERE, at our Temple Beth-El. It's time to come back and get involved again. Because the world was created for all of us, and we are all dust and ashes too.
Finding the balance to create a better world is the task of this week.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier