Why Every Jew Counts
There are certain parshiyot in the Torah that are very exciting with dramatic storylines, fascinating philosophical insights and truly memorable moments. There are parshiyot that have been made into movies and there is even a series of Parshiyot that was used as the foundation for a Tony-nominated Broadway play.
We would expect that on the 44th day of the Omer, as we are building up towards Matan Torah, that the parsha that we will study on the Shabbat before Shavuot would be exciting, and one that would literally whet our appetite to reaccept Torah on Shavuot.
Yet the reality is that Parshat Bamidbar is not very exciting or dramatic, on a superficial level, it seems to be very boring.
In this week’s Parsha, we learn that there were 41,500 Jews in the tribe of Asher, 53,400 in the shevet of Naphtali and Dan’s descendants numbered 62,700.
At the risk of being irreverent, who really cares?
After the Torah painstakingly spends verse after verse counting all the Tribes, the Torah then records the positioning of all the tribes around the Ark. In this section the Torah specifies that Asher, Naphthali and Dan were encamped north of the Mishkan.
The question remains why would Divine Providence dictate that almost every single year, Parshat Bamidbar with all its lists, numbers and positioning is the Parsha that is a “lead-in” to Shavuot?
Upon reflection, maybe the reason why we read this section, where all Jews are counted, is to teach us that every Jew counts and by extension every Jew’s learning of Torah counts and is meaningful.
Sometimes, since our first names are not Rabbi Ovadia and our last names are not Yoseph, or Schneerson or Solovetchik, we might think that our learning is inconsequential.
Sometimes we can feel like the children of Gad, Asher and Dan who were the children of Jacob’s midwives. Sometimes we can feel that we are not the real sons of Israel and that we are not the “real” carriers of the Torah.
We can legitimately question and ask “why learn,” since the vast majority of us will never become truly great. If we can’t truly master Torah and Talmud, then why invest energy and effort.
The fact that the tribes who are not “superstars” are counted, where no one will be a King, or a Kohen Gadol, teaches us that all Jews count and have inherent worth.
The Rama in his gloss to Yoreh Deah 110:1 writes: “There are those that say that a davar shbeminyan, which is anything that is always counted, can never be nullified
Additionally, the timing of The Counting Parsha serving as a lead-in to the Shavuot holiday, teaches that since we are all davar shebeminyan- something which is always counted, our Torah learning is meaningful and can never be nullified.
The Zohar, as quoted by the Ktzot HaChoshen, stresses how much G-d loves and appreciates every Jew’s creativity in learning Torah. The Zohar states: “At the moment, that a new Torah idea leaves the mouth of an individual, that Torah word goes in front of G-d. G-d takes those Torah words, that new “word,” and kisses it.”
Bamidbar’s pre-Shavuot message of the importance of the individual Jew’s learning is particularly important for this year’s Shavuot which will be celebrated with the cloud of COVID-19 over our heads. Although Synagogues are opening in Israel, for many if not most in the Diaspora, Shavuot 2020 will be a quieter and maybe even lonely experience.
It is therefore important for us to internalize the message of Bamidbar. We are counted because we count, our Torah learning matters to G-d, and we should never lose sight of how important we are in G-d’s eyes.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZTL responded to a letter from someone who described themselves as “a small Jew for Curacao”: "I must take exception to your referring to yourself as a “small Jew from Curacao.” Every Jew, man or woman, has a soul which is ‘part of G‑dliness above,’ Thus there is no such thing as a ‘small Jew,’ and a Jew must never underestimate his or her tremendous potential.”