Bemidbar begins as the Children of Israel depart Mount Sinai, having absorbed the newly received Torah, and embark on the path leading to the Promised Land.
The first order of business was to perform a census. Names were of the essence: each to be spoken, carefully inscribed, each representing a soul. Taking account of names indicated you were not a number but a unique individual with a life that belonged to you and was yours to fill. The challenge was to back up that name with a meaningful identity.
Escaping Egyptian bondage achieved liberty but the opportunity to find meaning in that liberty and accomplish a full-fledged freedom was brought to us through Torah. The Torah’s framework provided systems for discovering meaning in all aspects of life.
No wonder then, that the Talmud — the great compendium of Jewish wisdom — treats all aspects of life and reality as valuable subjects for discussion. Whether it’s markets, music, medicine, idiosyncrasies, sexuality or superstitions, if it’s part of God’s world, it’s worth exploring.
During humanity’s darkest ages when humans were restricted from learning, thinking and, therefore, from cognitively and spiritually growing, Jewish children were contemplating subtly sophisticated ideas, thus allowing the Jewish soul to soar from darkness into light.
For the Jewish people, Sinai is not only the source of national enlightenment, it is where the world’s value was born to us; for thirty centuries, we have contemplated what things mean over and above what they are. Bemidbar begins with our names and then fills them with the value and light of Torah.
Torah teaches the Jewish people we are not just entities to be counted but individual souls, with names, who count.
It is because of this acceptance and awareness that we deem, and always will, every individual life profoundly precious.