By Rabbi Daniel Levy, May 21, 2009

“The Israelites shall camp with each person near the banner having his paternal family’s insignia” Numbers 2:2

We count what we value. We check it again and again to see how much we have, thereby showing how dear and precious it is to us. God counts us, His people, because He thereby shows how dear we are to Him. The Jewish people are counted a total of three times in the Torah.

As the credit crunch deepens, people count and recount their assets. They count what they have lost and count what they have. But what do we really have? The great rabbi, philosopher and financier Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508) was once asked, “What are you worth?” He mentioned a particular sum. The questioner retorted, “But surely you are worth ten times that amount?” Abrabanel answered, “You answered me what am I worth, I am only worth what I have given away to others.” A similar encounter is reported about the late Sir Moses Montifiore.

The opening sidrah of the Book of Numbers focuses not only on counting but also on the flags of each tribe. A flag, like the name of the respective tribes, reflects the innate qualities that give a true sense of individuality to each tribe. When people are counted, we begin to appreciate the human worth of individuals and focus on their inner worth, rather than material wealth. The imagery of the flags is a statement about character, not possessions.

Albert Einstein once advised, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

    Last updated: 2:24pm, May 21 2009