“Take the sum of the sons” Numbers 4:22


In this sidrah, as in Exodus, Moses is instructed to count (naso) the men of Israel. Naso, which also means "to lift the head", is not the obvious verb to select to refer to counting. The same verb is found later in this week's sidrah in the third element of the Priestly Blessing: may God lift up (yissa) His face to the Jewish people and grant them peace.

Rashi follows the Midrash in understanding the language of God lifting up his face to refer to God suppressing His anger and showing favour and compassion towards the Jewish people. He also suggests that the reason God instructed a census be taken of the men on more than one occasion was because every single one of the people is important and is loved by Him.

When God instructed Moses to count each person, by using the word naso He was indicating that He did not merely wish the people to be counted as an arithmetical exercise. Rather, God was showing affection and love for His people, as he did in the Priestly Blessing. If the Torah had simply deployed the more usual word for counting, we would understand the counting simply to have a practical purpose, rather than that it is intended to express an appreciation that each and every person is (or, in this particular context, all adult males are) significant and loved by God. Naso refers to the lifting up of their heads to signal that we must look up and know that every individual is appreciated.

We are reminded of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav's saying: "The day that you were born was the day that God decided that the world could not exist without you."

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