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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 10_5_14
05/14/2010 02:57 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

by David Lyon

5-14-2010

The U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken up every ten years. The counting includes every person of every household. The importance of the census is found in the way resources are allocated to states, cities, and communities and population trends are noted, etc. We’ve been told numerous times how important it is to participate and be counted. If there’s a blank census form in your house, fill it in and mail it back immediately.

Had the technology been available, this is the way the census might have been done in ancient times. Instead, God only had to command Moses and Aaron to do it:

Take a census of the whole Israelite community…listing the names, every male, head by head. You (Moses) shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms. (Numbers 1:2-4)

Knowing who is in the community was as important then as it is, today. However, note the meaning of the words, “all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” This suggests that able-bodied men were counted. We know this from verse 18, “the names of those aged twenty years and over.” They were strong enough to fulfill the obligations of the community including defending it and the Tabernacle.

In commentaries, the rabbis look beyond the military purpose of the census to the meaning of the covenant God makes with the Israelite people. They want to know, “Why does God count the children of Israel, at all?” Their answer is consistent with our expectations of the covenant we all share with God. They explained that like any precious collection, God counts the children of Israel to be sure that each one is present. What’s more, the rabbis emphasize that God didn’t count them only when they were good, but throughout their life and journey. The 11th century commentator, Rashi, teaches us:

Out of awareness of the love of them (the Israelites), God counts them every hour. When they went out of Egypt, God counted them; and when they transgressed with the golden calf, God counted them…when it came time put upon them the divine Presence, God counted them… (Rashi on Numbers 1:1-2)

Compare God’s census to the way we count our family members. When my children were very young, my wife and I never failed to count the family as we entered and later exited a theme park or a restaurant. Can you imagine leaving one behind? In our own family, we counted four children, two adults, and sometimes our babysitter. Seven in and seven out. At bedtime, we checked their beds. When they were good and when they were not so good, we counted them and always kept them close. As God is like a loving parent to us, so we love our children, and you love yours.

In Bemidbar, the first portion of the Book of Numbers, which we begin this Shabbat, we are all counted among God’s children for all time. The census has been around a long time. Because we matter, it’s always time to stand up and be counted.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

_________________________________________________

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