By: Rabbi Cory Weiss, Rabbi of
Temple Har Zion
, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada
Make Yourself Count!
A few weeks ago, our family received notice to go online and fill out the Canadian census form. We moved to Canada from the United States just under ten years ago, and so this census is the first in which we get to participate. We were very excited—we matter! We’re not citizens yet (we’re working on it), but we count! And that is a very good feeling: knowing that your community thinks of you as one of its own—a necessary component of your people.
In this week’s Torah portion
, God commands Moses to take a census of all the Israelite people (well, males age twenty and up). Jews have always had a strange feeling about being counted. In the Torah, censuses generally come after wars and plagues, so God can count up how many of us are left standing. When King David takes a census without God specifically instructing him to do so, God sends a plague.
Since that time, it has been a taboo to count Jews. When we count for the minyan of ten adult Jews we need to pray publicly, we count (in Yiddish):
nisht ein, nisht tzvei,
etc. “Not one, not two, etc.” That way, we’re not “really” counting. It stems from the same idea that keeps some traditional Jews from telling you how many children they have, or how old they are. Counting people does not usually work out well for the Jewish people—so we avoid it. Counting us is God’s job.
According to Rashi, God is counting us all the time. In his comment on the first verse of
—“On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the Exodus, the Eternal spoke to Moses…saying: Take a census [literally ‘lift the heads’] of the whole Israelite community”—Rashi teaches: Because of God’s love for them, God is continually counting them. God counted them at the time of the Exodus; again after so many died at the time of the Golden Calf incident God counted them to find out how many were left; and now when God was going to rest the
upon them God counted them again.
It reminds me of taking my own children or our synagogue youth on trips. They have a blast, and I sit around and constantly count them and watch to make sure they’re all okay. That’s because each one is so precious and valuable to us.
(74d) we are taught: There are 600,000 letters in a Torah Scroll. Though the number is exaggerated (there are actually 304,805 letters in a
), it is symbolic. Each letter represents one Israelite, and every Israelite counts; without every single Jew sharing their letter with the world, the Torah is not complete.
I now realize that filling out the Canadian census form is not enough—we’ve been counted as Canadian Jews, but how do we make ourselves count? Through our actions and our behaviour that prove us to be good Canadians, that’s how. We participate with our synagogue community in MOSAIC Interfaith, to build relationships with six other religious groups in our region. We collaborate with our neighbours at the Imam Mahdi Islamic Centre in raising money to bring Middle Eastern refugees to resettle in Canada. We host an Out of the Cold program for the homeless at our shul during the cold Canadian winter. The Canadian Council for Reform Judaism works closely with indigenous communities to help them thrive. We “lift the heads” of all those in need around us. Only by doing this can we truly say we’ve stood up and been counted.
R. Isaiah HaLevi Hurwitz, author of
Shnei Luchot HaBrit
, writes: “The Torah uses the word
here, as in ‘count heads.’” The word
teaches us the importance of the Jewish people, that each is a head, each one individually important. Each Jew must accordingly feel the great responsibility they have for their actions, for every action of every Jew can improve the condition of the world, or Heaven forbid, make it deteriorate.”
In today’s Jewish world, we must make our Jewish lives count in order to be counted among the people Israel. Every choice we make as Liberal, Progressive, Reform Jews—striving to do the will of God—can change the world for the better. And God knows the world could be better. Make yourself count!