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A Dvar Torah for Bamidbar

Counting Israel as One

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman,May 14, 2021
A Dvar Torah for Bamidbar: Numbers 1:1 - 4:20
Based on Likutey Moharan Book 1 Lesson 7

At several places in Holy Writ, including this week's parsha, HaShem directs the Jewish people to make an accounting of themselves. Rashi explains that if the Jewish people need to be counted for some reason the best way to go about it is to have each Jew donate a half-shekel, and tally up the coins rather than counting them directly. This is according to Scripture. Indeed when counting a minion many will do so this way:

To (1) be (2) or (3) not (4) to (5) be, (6) that (7) is (8) the (9) question (10).
If there is no minion it is not to be.

Counting the Jews directly, we are told, can be disastrous. Why? One given reason is because singling out individual Jews subjugates them to the "evil eye" by drawing them apart from the community. While individualism has its place we are far stronger when we are united, when we are one.

As Jews we need to know and affirm our strength without weakening it. Hence G-d commanded the Jews to be counted via the half-shekel method as Rashi discusses at Exodus 30:12. This method of counting affirms both the integrity and strength of the individual Jew while affirming that we are one, Am Y'israel Chai! Every Jew is unique and every Jew is vital to the overall well being of the whole. The spark of divine anointing is present in every Jew as part of our birthright, hence each Jew has individual tasks to perform in this world which, when combined, leads everyone towards the Messianic World to Come, mitzvah by mitzvah.

Every Jew is a priest as declared at Exodus 19:6. Some take this responsibility more seriously than others of course, but ALL Jews are the priests to the other nations and are commanded by HaShem to live and act as such. All Jews are divinely required and instructed to bless the world, each according to his or her unique gifts and abilities. All of us are commanded to work towards the establishment of universal Shalom, Peace. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has a lot to say on this high calling:

READ Likutey Moharan Book 1 Lesson 7, PAGE 246 in the 3 volume set, translated by Rabbi Israel Dov Odeser and available at Breslov Books.org

So... while numbers matter under diverse situations, they must never undermine the importance of the individual Jew. AND, as always, balance is essential in this. Hence we say: Be the blessing YOU were created to be and never allow the perfect to defeat the good!

Our friend Larry Kirchheimer shared the following anecdote that reminds us this truth and of the need for balance in all things:

A newlywed couple went to rural Montana to open a shul and 3 days later they held their first Saturday morning service. The Shabbat service went nicely and after a while it was time for the sermon. The newly ordained Rabbi was a little hesitant to give his Dvar Torah because there was only one person in the Shul. What to do? We face this situation here at Beit Emunah from time to time. We've even begun with no one present.

Uncertain of what to do, the newly ordained rabbi asked the man if he should give his talk. The man replied “I am not a Rabbi, I am just a simple cowboy on a large ranch, but I know when I call all my 2,000 cows to come and eat if only 1 shows up I feed that 1 cow.”

This made good sense so the young Rabbi started his sermon. An hour went by, than two hours and then as he was approaching the third hour the Rabbi stopped and looked at the cowboy -- You think our services run long sometimes? -- The cowboy didn't say a word. The Rabbi said, “Nu?” (well?) the cowboy still didn't say a word. So the Rabbi asked the cowboy “Did you enjoy my sermon?” The cowboy replied, “Like I told you, I’m not a Rabbi. But if I called all my 2,000 cows and only one cow showed up to eat, I would feed that one cow.” The cowboy paused, then added, “But I wouldn't give all my hay to that one cow!

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