60. Bamidbar - COUNTING JEWS

DURING THE next three weeks we will be reading from the Fourth of the Five Books of Moses, from Sefer Bamidbar, known in English as the Book of Numbers. In this book we are told how Moses enumerated the population of the various tribes in Israel.

Earlier we have read that the counting was done in a certain specified manner. The admonition was that each individual included in the census must give half a shekel. When these half shekalim were collected, they were counted and the population of Jews was established. The Torah emphasizes that this method must be used "so that there be no plague in counting them" (Exod. 30:12). Thus, only when the counting is done in a way that proves the individuals willingness to stand up and be counted is the census of a people desirable. Otherwise it is meaningless and sometimes even harmful.

Let me explain what I mean. While the census of the general population in our country is taken only once in ten years, we as Jews are counted at more frequent intervals. Our enemies will tell you how many Jews there are in the clothing business and in the medical profession, how many Jewish lawyers there are in New York and the number of Jewish students in American colleges and universities. Even those who claim "that some of their best friends are Jews" will tell you that while a small number of Jews in a particular area may be desirable and serve a useful purpose by stimulating trade and intellectual activity, a large percentage is troublesome. Such persons watch with apprehension and with heavy hearts the growth of Jewish numbers. People who move to the new communities in and around New York will tell you how many non-Jewish residents are rushing to sell their houses because "the Jews are moving in." So being counted is not always such a groise gedulah. It depends on who and how and for what purpose the counting is done.

We know, for example, that at present there are close to six million Jews residing in the United States. Wonderful, isn t it? But it is disheartening when we begin to think not in terms of how many people we can count, but how many Jews we can count on. Twenty-six years ago when the State of Israel came into being there were more Jews in any one of the boroughs of our city than in all of Israel. But as far as the future destiny of our people was concerned, any fair-minded individual will agree that the 600,000 Jews in Eretz Yisrael had a greater significance than the millions of our beloved brethren who reside in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

What good is it to know that we have this large number of our people in this great land, if when it comes to responsible and dignified Jewish living only a small percentage of that number can be counted on? What good is the six million figure when we know that for any great need we can actually count on only about one million-if that many?

That explains why the Torah repeatedly uses the phrase, "Count the heads of the entire congregation of Israel" (Num. 1:12). Moses was ordered to enumerate only those who p05sessed heads and faces. Otherwise they were to be considered as ciphers in the census of Israel. The heart of the matter is, therefore, this. The people who are enumerated assume importance only if they are willing and eager to be counted upon-who can be relied upon to do something worthwhile with their lives and to contribute toward the good and welfare of their people.

To you, my dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to add the following thought. When Moses took the census of his people he required that each Jew give half a shekel. Why only half? Why not a whole shekel. The answer is that this was to impress upon his people the lesson of loyalty. Only that Jew was worthy of being counted among his people who was willing to split his shekel with his people and with his God.

You have declared yourself this day-that you are one of us. Coming as you do from a fine family who has taught you, by word and deed, the philosophy of sharing, I hope and pray that you will follow in their path-that you will stand up and be counted as a loyal son of your people and your Faith.

Back Page Contents Next Page