The name of the fourth book of the Torah that we commence reading this week is Bamidbar. However, our sages refer to this book as the book of Numbers.
The name “Numbers” is based on the fact that in the beginning of the book, G-d commands Moses to conduct a census of all those twenty years and over. The tribe of Levi, however, was to be counted separately. Moreover, even infant members of the tribe of Levi were to be counted, as opposed to the other tribes, where only those over the age of twenty were to be included in the census.
The Midrash, cited by Rashi, describes Moses’ dilemma when it came to counting the infants. Moses said to G-d: “How can I enter their homes to count their infants?” G-d provided a solution to this dilemma and said to Moses: “You do your part and I will do my part.” When Moses positioned himself in front of a tent, a heavenly voice emerged from each home and stated the precise number of infants there were in them.
Indeed, Rashi states, this is alluded to in the words that appear in this week’s parsha: “And Moses counted them by the word of G-d..” The “word of G-d” is interpreted quite literally by our Sages to mean that a heavenly voice emerged from each tent with a precise count of infants.
There are many intriguing aspects of the foregoing narrative.
First, what was the purpose of the census?
Second, why were there two separate censuses, one for all of Israel and a separate one for the tribe of Levi?
Third, why did G-d resort to a supernatural means of providing Moses with the count of infants? Couldn’t they just ask each father or mother, or some other more natural method?
Fourth, what is the lesson for us, particularly as we stand in such close proximity to the momentous occasion of Shavuot, the anniversary of Mattan Torah?
The first lesson is that we all count!
This lesson is followed by the realization that we count on two counts (pun intended):
First we count because we are all conscripts in
G-d’s army. This was the function of the first census where only those who were twenty and older and capable of fighting in the military were counted. The age of twenty in rabbinic tradition is when one’s intellect has developed to the point where they can make critical decisions in life.
The message we thus derive from this census is that we must not allow our intellectual potential to remain dormant. The struggles and challenges of life demand that we count, i.e., recognize and actualize, our abilities to make the right decisions by harnessing all of our intellectual gifts with which we were endowed.
However, there is a second and more profound dimension to our counting. We not only count as intellectuals who know how to confront the challenges of life, we also posses the “Levi” within us that comes to us at birth, which is our uncanny ability to commit ourselves to G-d and righteousness even when our minds fail to support that effort. The Levi—which derives from a Hebrew root word that means attachment—within us can reach destinations that our intellect can never attain.
This Levi element, however, is so deeply embedded in our souls that even Moses was baffled as to how he could elicit this from every person. Moses knew how to teach and impart knowledge to all, but to find the infant within everyone confounded him. Moses’ apprehension to enter the tents of each and every family was an expression of his inability to penetrate into the deepest precincts of the Jewish soul.
G-d’s response to Moses, therefore, was “do whatever you can do, and I will do the rest.” Whenever and however we reach out to another Jew, we must realize that we are not reaching down to some lowly soul. On the contrary, we are truly reaching in to something higher, deeper and elusive. And our first reaction should be one of humility. We should be asking, as Moses did, “Who am I to penetrate into the inner sanctum of the Jewish heart and soul?” However, G-d’s response to us is to do whatever we can for the other Jew, and G-d will reveal their potential.
As we approach the Holiday of Shavuot, when we received the Torah at Sinai, we never counted so much. Our spiritual potential—our power of reason and discernment as well as our Levi component—were actualized. As we traveled away from Sinai, many have forgotten how much we count. The farther we traveled, the more we lost touch with our own souls. And many a Jewish leader was baffled: “How can we possibly reach these alienated souls? How can we enter their “tents” to find the innocent infant character of their souls when their tents have been inundated with un-Jewish and negative influences? Many have tragically written off so many of our brothers and sisters because of this dilemma.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe has given us the answer:
We are now standing on the threshold of the Messianic Redemption. And as we get closer and closer to the final destination in our historical journey, the Age of Redemption, G-d has given us a clear message: “You do whatever you can do to liberate that soul and I will do the rest.” Indeed, we have seen how in the last few decades countless Jews have discovered their Jewish soul. This movement should inspire all of us to make our final move from the state of exile to the state of Redemption.
May we all receive the Torah with joy and inspiration.