“You shall count them according to their legions” Numbers 1:3


The English name of Bemidbar is Numbers, which comes from the censuses that are taken in this parashah at the beginning of the forty years and the subsequent count towards the end.

We previously learned that to count the people, every individual would contribute a half a shekel and the tally of individuals would be derived by doubling the total raised. Why not just count heads or bodies?

A head count depersonalises us; it lumps us as a herd. In making us give, Hashem signals that we are worth what we contribute. Even today, in checking that we have a minyan in shul, we are careful not to count off the people present one to ten.

Later, King David is punished for violating this principle when he does tally the people, perhaps the wrong way and without any clear reason.  

The Bemidbar  count in is in two parts. The first is of adult males of fighting strength. It is important to know the size of one’s forces. 

Thereafter, Hashem instructs a count of the Levites, who were not to fight. As each Levite family is assessed, they are appointed to a defined role in the Mishkan, or Sanctuary: responsible for the altars, the structure, carrying the ark etc.

Throughout, the word used for number in Ivrit is pikud, which means “designation”. A person is numbered, not just as an anonymous entity, a bit part of a greater whole, but as a complete entity, tasked with responsibility.

Each of us has a purpose. We don’t just add bulk. The entire world was created for just one individual — and we, individually are significant.

In the world population totals, the Jewish community barely registers. We are one half of one percent. However, reflect on what we have achieved, the civilisation and values we represent, the impact we have made.

Reduction to numbers can mask what really matters. None of us should think of ourselves as a mere statistic. Each of us is an individual and Hashem has charged us with responsibility. Each of us matters. It is up to us to make our lives count. 

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