This week we begin the Sefer of Bamidbar. “Vay’dabare Hashem el Moshe bamidbar Sinai (And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai) [1:1].” One month after the Mishkan had been erected, when the Shechina’s (Hashem’s Presence) ‘dwelling’ amongst us had been established for thirty days, Moshe was commanded to count us.
Rashi points out that this is the third time that we were going to be counted. The first time was when we left Mitzraim, the second was after the chait ha’egel (the sin of the golden calf) and now, this third time, when the Shechina was coming to dwell amongst us. He explains that counting display’s Hashem’s love for us.
We find that the Sefer of Bamidbar is also called Chumash Ha’Pekudim – the Book of Counting. It seems strange that the entire sefer is named this, even though counting only takes place at the very beginning of the sefer and comprises a very small part of the sefer. Clearly, it is because of the importance of being counted and what it teaches us about ourselves that our sefer begins this way. That is why the entire sefer is named Chumash Ha’Pekudim. We must understand the love and importance shown by our being counted and why it was necessary to be counted at these specific times.
The Ramban [1:45] writes that just coming before Moshe — the greatest prophet the world has ever known — and his brother Aharon — the Kohen gadol (high priest) — and introducing yourself by name is an incredible zchus (merit and honor). They looked at and counted each individual and asked Hashem to show him compassion. They didn’t simply ask each family patriarch how many members there were in his family. Rather, each individual was given the significance and the honor of passing before them.
Rav Isaac Sher expounds upon the lesson that we need to learn. Our importance is not simply as being a part of the group but rather, each individual is as dear to Hashem as the entire group! All that is said about Klal Yisroel in general throughout the Torah and the Talmud, applies to each and every individual as an individual. We are compared to stars… Just like a star, we can illuminate ourselves and the world around us. Even if we seem small and insignificant in our own eyes, in the eyes of the Torah our worth and importance are significant.
The Talmud [Bava Metzia 85A] tells that Rabi visited the town of Rav Elazar, the son of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai. He inquired if that tzadik had a son. He was told that he did have a son who was not exactly following in the ways of his illustrious father and grandfather. In order to help the grandson of such a prominent individual, Rabi decided to call him ‘Rav’. If others would call him Rav, he would sense what they felt he could be and he would improve. He later came and joined Rabi’s yeshiva. When Rabi walked by, he commented that the new student’s voice sounded like the voice of Rav Elazar bar Rabi Shimon. He was told that, in fact, it was his son.
The recognition that we are banim (sons) of Hashem, with all of the inherent importance that goes along with that, needs to help us to act accordingly.
As we discussed before Pesach, we don’t simply commemorate our holidays — we live them. Shavuos celebrates the time when Hashem gave us the Torah on Har Sinai and,
every year at that time, Hashem again gives each and every individual his portion of Torah. Our neshama (soul) stood there then and must stand ready again now. As a member of Klal Yisroel, we must recognize our importance and act accordingly.
The Be’er Moshe explains why this message needed to be taught to us at these specific points. We were first counted as we left Mitzraim. We were making the transition from impurity to purity — becoming the nation of Hashem. We needed to know what it meant to be such a nation — to know our importance as individuals before Hashem. We were counted.
We were confident in that role and in our relationship with Hashem until the cheit ha’egel. At that point there was a tremendous amount of doubts in Klal Yisroel. Had our worship of the egel shattered our relationship with Hashem? How does He feel about us now? Does He still have that same love for us? Do we still have that importance as individuals? At that critical juncture in our history Hashem again had us counted. Rashi explains that this can be compared to a shepherd whose flock was ravaged by a pack of wolves. Afterwards, the shepherd counts them to see how many remained alive. Each remaining sheep becomes even more precious than it was before. We still had that unique bond with Hashem, that unique role in history, that unique importance as individuals. We were counted.
The third counting was the most important one — when Hashem brought his Shechinah down into this world to be with us. We knew that to whatever degree Hashem would avail Himself, we would be there both collectively and individually to connect to Him. But how available would He be? To what degree would He would connect to physical beings in this physical world? We were counted after the Mishkan was erected and the Shechina had filled it. That clearly showed how much Hashem was willing to avail Himself and the dizzying heights of importance that each individual could reach.
These stages still apply to us today. Every person decides what general course he wants to follow in life. We must realize that, even if until now our course has not been one of Torah and mitzvos, that does not lock us into any position. When we make that decision to adhere to Hashem’s Torah, when we experience our own personal exodus from Mitzraim, we must know that we will then be counted amongst the tzadikim (righteous).
However, even after such a decision has been reached, there are always many pitfalls along the way. The times that we don’t act as we know we should. There hasn’t been a single tzadik in this world, including Moshe, who hasn’t sinned. We know what’s right but that doesn’t guarantee that we will utilize our strength to handle all of the situations and tests that come at us… We experience our own personal cheit ha’egel… We wonder if we can still have that connection, that closeness with Hashem… We must know that even after such a stumble, we are still counted and we still count. There’s nothing that Hashem wants more than for us to move close to Him again. When we are there, so is He, with that same closeness and love. We are counted.
This leads to the counting that parallels that of our parsha. To be counted amongst those whom Hashem rests His Presence on them. To be amongst those who, through
them, the very purpose of creation is fulfilled. Those who bring Hashem’s presence back into this world. The world began in a state of absolute G-dliness. A void was created in which Hashem’s presence was no longer clearly perceived. The creation is often described as ‘yesh me’ayin’ — a transformation from a state of ‘nothing’ to ‘something’. However, in this context, the Baal Hatanya writes that it would be better described as ‘ayin me’yesh’ — nothing, a void, an area seemingly ’empty’ of Hashem, having been created from the epitome of ‘yesh’, the epitome of ‘something’, from pure G-dliness. The partners of creation are those who bring the ‘yesh’, the G-dliness, back into the world.
May we be counted amongst them…
Wishing you a good Shabbos and a meaningful Shavuos, P> Yisroel Ciner
This is dedicated in Mazel Tov to the rach ha’nimol ben Avrohom Yosef, the newborn son of Avi and Malkie Behar. A special Mazel Tov to the grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Behar and Mr. and Mrs. Lazer Shulman.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).