In Hebrew, it’s called Bamidbar (“In the Desert”) and also Sefer HaPekudim (“The Book of the Countings”); in the English-speaking world, this is the biblical section known as “Numbers.” And yes, there are many, many numbers in the fourth of the Torah’s five books.
In its opening chapters we learn that one year after the Exodus, there were 603,550 adult Israelite males between the ages of 20 and 60, of whom 22,273 were firstborn; a separate census counted 22,300 Levites aged one month and older (7,500 Gershonites, 8,600 Kohathites, and 6,200 in the Merari clan). We are also given the figure for each of the twelve tribes, from Judah’s 74,600 to Manasseh’s 32,200. Then the Torah tallies the number in each of the four “camps” into which the twelve tribes were divided: Judah’s camp, which also included the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, totaled 186,400; the three tribes in Reuben’s camp totaled 151,450; Ephraim’s camp included 108,100; and 157,600 pitched their tents in the camp of Dan.
Twenty-six chapters and 39 years later, we’re still in the Book of Numbers, and in the midst of another census. Again, we get the total figure (now 601,730) and the numbers for each tribe. We notice that Simeon has been tragically decimated (22,200, down from 59,300), while Manasseh’s ranks have swelled to 52,700 (a gain of 20,500). But most of all we notice how G‑d’s passion for counting His people has not waned.
For, as G‑d says to Moses, we’re not just counting people. We’re “raising their heads.”
When a census is taken, the count will include scholars and boors, professionals and vagabonds, philanthropists and misers, saints and criminals. Yet each counts for no more and no less than one in the total number. The count reflects only the one quality they all share equally: the fact that each is an individual human being.
So, is a headcount an expression of the lowest common denominator in a collection of individuals? read more HERE…
Have a Good Shabbos!!
Rabbi Mendel Schusterman