We have now reached the series of Torah portions that is a mathematician’s dream. After all, this section of the Torah is called Numbers! In Parshat B’midbar, a census is taken of the Israelite men of military age who would later conquer the Land of Canaan. The total count of these men numbers 603,550. However, each tribe was listed individually. Why did the Torah choose to enumerate the exact number of men in each tribe when it could have just as easily given the total?
One interpretation is that listing by tribe indicates the military prowess present in each tribe, demonstrating how many men it could contribute to battle. Another is that it demonstrates the specificity with which the census was done. Just listing a total number of Israelites, especially one of over 600,000 males could imply that people were missed, as opposed to showing how many were in each tribe. The interpretation that I prefer is that the listing of the tribes indicates that each one contributed to the development of the Israelite nation. What was important was not the total sum but rather the contributions of each of the individuals who comprised that total. While B’midbar only speaks about men, every man represented so many other people: the elders who could not fight and the wives and children who supported him. The tribe with the most men, Judah, did not count for any more than the tribe with the fewest men, Manasseh. Rather, each tribe was viewed as necessary and was valued for its contributions to the conquest and settlement of Canaan.
There is a valuable lesson here: just as each tribe was individually valued, so too is each individual valued for what he or she contributes to our community. Rather than just looking at the final outcome, we can take a step back and pride ourselves on the work that it took to reach that point. This is a precious lesson for us to recognize now when we are on the cusp of Shavuot, the holiday on which we renew our receipt of the Torah each and every year. Each evening for seven entire weeks we have been counting up to this moment, reliving our ancestors’ journey out of Egyptian slavery and to Mount Sinai. Now we are finally reaching the moment where the counting is complete.
At the Jericho Jewish Center we recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that we are worth far more as a congregation than the number of members we have. Everyone here is valued as an individual, rather than as a number, and each of us has a role to play in the strengthening of our congregation. We each should receive recognition for who we are and for all that we do in making our congregation the warm, welcoming place that it is. This year I have seen so much resiliency and strength in leading services, planning programs and welcoming members. Let me especially thank Martha and Diane, our outgoing Presidents, the entire Executive Board and Board of Trustees, everyone who attends minyan and Shabbat services and all our program and committee chairs for all you do for our congregation. You are leading by example and showing that we are a congregation where everyone counts and at which everyone is valued.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Hag Matan Torateinu Sameach.