The fourth grade was excited to begin their class trip to the Museum of Science. The children gathered in front of their school, near the bright yellow school bus and waited as their teacher joined them.
“Okay, boys and girls, “ called out their teacher, Mrs. Stein, “The bus doors are going to open and then I’d like you to quietly and quickly go onto the bus and find seats. Stay in your seat once you’re sitting because I’ll have to count you all to make sure that everyone has arrived.”
Ari and Joel made their way to a seat near the back.
“Mrs. Stein is gonna count us every two seconds at the museum, because she’s always worried that she’ll lose someone on these school trips, “ said Ari.
Joel laughed, “Yeah, can you imagine if she forgot one of us there and came back to school? Wow, that would be really bad.”
Joel didn’t see that Mrs. Stein was coming down the bus aisle and heard him.
“Joel,” Mrs Stein smiled, “I don’t plan on forgetting any of you. I’ll keep counting you like you like Bnei Yisroel were counted in the desert many times. Consider it a sign of affection. Just as Hashem loves his people, I love my class and don’t want to let anyone get lost!”
She waited to see the last student get onto the bus and then turned back to begin counting the children. “OK children, please hold up one of your hands so that I can count you all”.
Q: What is the connection between our story and the parsha?
A: Parshas Bamidbar begins with Hashem commanding Moshe to count the number of Bnei Yisroel (Numbers 1:1).
Q: Are there any issues with counting Jews?
A: Absolutely. In the book of Hosea it is stated that the number of Bnei Yisroel should be “like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted (Hosea 2:1). Just as the sand cannot be counted, Bnei Yisroel should not be counted. So how were Bnei Yisroel counted by Moshe? Each person who was to be counted, gave a half shekel coin. Moshe counted the coins, not the people.
Q: Can you think of example in Tanach where Jews were mistakenly counted?
A: King David counted the number of Bnei Yisroel. Because of his mistake Hashem caused a 3 day plague of dever (Shmuel II, Chapter 24).
Q: Why did Mrs. Stein ask the children to hold up a hand while she counted them?
A: We are not allowed to count people, but we can count a finger on each person. This is how the Kohanim were counted in the Beis Hamikdash (Yoma 22b). If Mrs. Stein counts one finger on each student, and counts a total of 21 fingers, then she can conclude that there are 21 students without having actually counted the students themselves.
Q: Why is counting Jewish people dangerous?
A: The Jewish nation is strong when we are united as one. When a group is counted they become “numbered” as individuals rather than a nation, which places them in a certain danger. They must therefore be counted in a special manner, so that they are counted on the one hand and yet remain an integral part of the group on the other.
Back to Our Story
“Hey, Mrs. Stein,” called out Joel, “Maybe you should ask us all to ‘donate’ a half dollar to you so that you can count us!”
Mrs. Stein laughed, “I could get all the teachers some cups of coffee at the museum with that donation, but I think I’ll just stick to counting your fingers”.
(Written by Josh and Tammy Kruger, in collaboration with Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer of the Institute for Dayanim, and based on the following article by Rabbi Aryeh Citron: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/896203/jewish/Laws-of-Counting-Jews.htm)