God spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai … saying: “Take the sum
of all the congregation of the Children of Israel, by their families …
Whenever I got to this parshah and recall what Rashi says about God’s
counting of the Jewish people as a sign of endearment, my mind skips over to
a counting of a different type. I always seem to see, in my mind’s eye, the
identification numbers tattooed on the arms of the Jewish people during the
Holocaust, and I feel a coldness instead.
It is the most bizarre thing. I would have thought that any nation bent on
exterminating a people would have avoided keeping meticulous records of the
people they were destroying. Just think of all the money and manpower the
Nazi’s, y”s, had to invest just to number each Jew they captured and to keep
a file on him or her. Millions of files!
Why? Who goes to all that trouble and expense? To make sure that no one
escapes? The allies had the same concern about their prisoners of war, but
they didn’t number them. To recall just how many Jews they murdered? A head
count would have sufficed. There really wasn’t a good reason,
logically-speaking, not that Hitler, ysv”z, was very logical, at least morally.
The real answer to the question is that Heaven made him do it. The question
is why? What was the message?
The basic rule is that every negative historical event regarding the Jewish
people is the flip side of some positive event that did not come to
fruition. Nothing can happen in Creation if there is not some energy in the
world to make it possible. And usually, it is an energy that can be used for
good or evil, depending upon who gets to it first. So, when something evil
happens in Creation, especially to the Jewish people, it has to be asked:
What good could this have brought about had it been used properly?
Which brings us back to the fanatical numbering of the Jews during the
Holocaust. If the Germans numbered the Jews for torture and death, then it
must have been a time when the Jewish people could have been numbered for
something positive. The question is, why would God have numbered the Jewish
people at that time at all?
To answer that question, we need only to learn Rashi on this week’s parshah:
Because they are precious before Him, He counts them all the time. When
they went out of Egypt He counted them (Shemos, 12:37), when they fell
because of [the sin of] the golden calf He counted them to know the number
of those who remained, and when He came to cause His Presence to rest upon
them He counted them … (Rashi, Bamidbar 1:1)
From what Rashi explains, it seems that God counted the Jewish people at
every major turning point, good or bad, in Jewish history at that time.
Indeed, the counting itself seems to signify that something major had
happened, or was happening, at that time in history. And certainly, in
retrospect, the Holocaust had been no different.
What I am saying, as controversial as it may seem, is that there was an
energy in the world at that time as Hitler, ysv”z, was rising to power, to
count the Jewish people. Otherwise, he would not have had the idea to do it,
or the resources to carry it out so accurately. He used it for evil only
because we failed to use it for good.
That means that some time around the late 1930s and the early 1940s, Jewish
history was meant to change, for the good, and in a major way. The question
is, what was supposed to have happened that didn’t, or at least got pushed
off, or came about through the negative instead of the positive?
The answer is even more controversial: the founding of the modern State of
That is because the event, and its history since then, has been so
confusing. The religious Zionists want to believe that the miraculous
founding of the new state at that time was nothing short of the Final
Redemption, or close to it. The Orthodox world downplays all of that and
barely acknowledges the significance of the historical moment, with some
even going so far as to claim that the founding of the State is an act of
the Satan, not of God, to cause Jews to stumble, not to help them survive.
If that is confusing, the secular Zionists cannot even decide if they want
the State to exist, at least as a Jewish one. Going back to the first World
Zionist Conference in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, the secular Zionists
pushed for a state that was not connected to the Jewish past, one that has
more like Europe than anything else. The modern secular Israeli is so
disconnected from his past that he is even prepared to surrender land he
once fought to keep, in the name of peace that does not and is unlikely to
exist before Moshiach arrives.
Regardless, in 1948, love it or hate it, the Jewish State was born, against
all odds, and the recommendation of the United States State Department
(until this very day). Fortunately (read: miraculously), though, the sitting
President at that time, Harry S. Truman, was a Bible-carrying man, one who
was well-versed in Torah enough to believe that the return of the Jewish
people to their boundaries after 2,000 years of exile was nothing short of
the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, with which he was only too happy to
But this was not an event that just jumped out of the word work. Rather, it
was the culmination of an ingathering that had its roots in the first, very
small wave of aliyah that began as early as the 1700s. It was at that time,
at the command of their beloved rebbi, the Gaon of Vilna, that the students
of the GR”A made their way to the barren land of Eretz Yisroel to begin what
the GR”A called the ‘Beginning of the Redemption.’
Being the Torah giant and Kabbalist that he was, the Gaon had his
calculations and reasons for trying to rebuild the yishuv of Eretz Yisroel
exactly at that time. Even he was on his way to Eretz HaKodesh, and only
turned back because something happened to indicate that for him, the time
was not right. So, he encouraged his students to go instead, and they did.
The going was quite tough and dangerous in the beginning, but a beginning it
was, until waves of aliyah began to support and expand what had already been
established. Needless to say, there were no Arabs living there at the time,
the land being as barren and economically unfeasible as it seemed to be. One
had to be quite idealistic to make the move and persevere until better
Which they did not, for many years to come. But Jews continued to come, in
fulfillment of the prophecy that Jews would indeed one day return to their
land. And, this continued through the 1800s, regardless of the politics in
and around the land of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. Right under the noses
of the Arab world, the ancient land off to the east of the Mediterranean Sea
was once again becoming Eretz Yisroel.
Hence, by the time Ben Gurion declared statehood in 1948, it was already a
de facto reality thanks to Divine Providence. And the incredible success of
the State, some 63 years later, has only been possible because of the same
Divine Providence, no matter what people say and who takes credit for it.
And, the biggest miracle of all is that, in spite of the backwards thinking
of some Israeli politicians, there is still a country in which the Knesset
can exist to express that backwards thinking!
To make a long story short, although perhaps not less confusing, the 1930s
and the 1940s were a threshold between the previous period of history, and
the one that came after. People can deny the validity of the declaration,
but they cannot deny that Jewish history turned a crucial corner at that
time. A massive negative energy emerged and was used against the Jewish
people only because a massive positive energy was put into the world and
left largely untapped by the Jewish nation.
So, instead of being ingathered from the four corners of Europe to Eretz
Yisroel, we were ingathered to Concentration Camps. Instead of being
numbered so that we could transition peacefully to the next great stage of
Jewish history, we were numbered for destruction. And, instead of achieving
equality and unity amongst ourselves for the sake of redemption, it was
imposed upon us from outside, and all that made us unique from one group was
taken away from us until we all looked the same. We were even forced to
literally live on top of one another.
This is not an issue of finger pointing or second guessing previous
generations with hindsight. This is a matter of taking stock of what has
happened in the past, learning from what has clearly gone wrong, and trying
to see if the lessons can be applied in a positive way in the future. It is
a matter of using rules of Jewish history, some known, some forgotten, and
seeing how they played out in historical events.
Eventually, everything will fall into place as it should. God’s master plan,
without doubt, will prevail. So many forces in Creation have tried to stop
the Jewish people from fulfilling their ultimate destiny, but they will, and
have been now for thousands of years. The prophecies of redemption will be
realized and probably sooner than later. Of that we can be sure.
What is uncertain is how much evil will happen along the way. How much death
and destruction will occur between now and the time the Final Redemption
will arrive? How many of us will still be around to witness and celebrate
the end of all darkness forever? That is the variable of history that can
only be answered by taking advantage of the spiritually fortuitous events
that Heaven throws our way to allow us to play a role in the Final
Redemption, before they are taken by the evil people of history and used
Let the next one to number us be God, and may it be because we have survived
history, and only to show us how much He truly cherishes us.