This week’s parsha begins the book of Bamidbar / Numbers, with just that – a lot of numbers. Moshe is asked to take a census of the Israelites, along with the head of each tribe. With the verses in the parsha looking quite repetitive – a list of names and numbers – it is easy to glaze over the larger importance of such an activity. Why take a census, in ancient Israel or today? One of the reasons is to ensure that everyone is accounted for – not merely on a ledger, but materially, emotionally and spiritually. If we only concern ourselves with others we see on a regular basis, the rest of the community – who might be less financially stable – will suffer from neglect. Further, by asking questions on a census, as we do today, we can learn more about those with whom we are not naturally in conversation. For instance, religious leaders are concerned now to integrate the growing number of Americans who do not identify with any religious group, a rapidly increasing percentage of the population. It seems obvious that no one person can have their finger on the pulse of a country as large as the US, but even in Bamidbar, Moshe could not possibly have kept track of a burgeoning nation of over 600,000 adult males (often estimated to be about 1.5 million people). Thus, Hashem has Moshe count them – to ensure that no one falls through the cracks, and to continue to be attentive to their changing needs.
We count ourselves
To better understand