Thursday, June 6, 2024

Every Jew Counts


Bamidbar normally falls before Shavuot. The Sages give us a sign – you count (in other words, the census of the Jewish people), and then you observe the Chag of Shavuot. There’s a lot of depth in these things; let’s try to see some connections.

Rebbe Nachman already makes a connection with the letters found in the 12 tribes – Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yissachar, Zevulun, etc. When you count the letters of the 12 tribes, there are 49 letters. Rebbe Nachman hints that these correspond to the 49 days of the Omer, the 49 gates leading to the 50th level, which is the highest gate. All of these are interrelated.

We’re counting the census of the Jewish population at the time – the generation who received the Torah – in Parshat Bamidbar. Right after that, we’re re-receiving the Torah on Shavuot. What’s the connection here?

Every letter of every tribe relates to another day of the Sefira counting and another gate of holiness. Meaning, every detail counts; every detail of the 12 tribes, plus their offspring – the descendants (which includes us) counts. We all count!

In this week’s Parsha, there’s a census. But we know there’s a rule: in general, it’s not good to count because blessing is found in that which is concealed. When you count something, there’s no blessing in it.

Here, the Torah makes such a big deal to count every single Jew – every single male above the age of 20, and from the tribe of Levi, every male above the age of one month is counted. What’s going on? Why this counting of every single Jew, and why right before Shavuot?

Reb Noson explains that when you count, the concept of numbers (minyan) represents the most physical level one can reach. In other words, it’s the furthest point of physicality. When you count: one, two, three, you’re acknowledging the existence and value of matter. So physically counting people represents the most extreme level of physicality.

So, the idea of counting every Jew is because every Jew – especially in the case of the Jews in the desert – is a vessel. When you count, for example, 24,000 Jews in the tribe of Binyamin, or 45,000 in the tribe of Yehuda etc., this counting essentially creates vessels. For what? Vessels for each Jew in the desert to receive the Infinite Light within them, and that’s why they needed to be counted.

Hashem was concerned with counting the Jews when they were in the desert – after the golden calf, after the Mishkan was erected, and before entering the land – we have several censuses in the Torah. All this shows that every Jew counts, every Jew makes a difference, and every Jew is a vessel to receive Light.

This is the same idea behind why we count the days of the Omer! The countdown of the Omer’s days, those 49 days, creates vessels. Once you count them, every day – day 1, day 2, day 3, etc. – is like a vessel. By singling it out through counting, you enable that day to be a vessel for what? For the light of the 50th level, the 50th day of Shavuot – receiving the Torah.

Even if we may think lowly of ourselves, without much worth – nonetheless, in Hashem’s eyes, we have value!

Once we count and reach the 50th day of Shavuot, and we receive the Torah anew every year, it shines into each of the days that we counted.

The same is true with all the Jews in the desert – 600,000+ Jews, and every one is a vessel! What does that show? That every Jew counts! Every Jew counts, from the greatest tzaddik to the lowest of the low. He is part of a tribe, he is part of the Jewish nation, and he has to be located in a certain place.

Just imagine going back to the desert: maybe there was a Jew who wasn’t such a tzaddik. We know for sure there were Jews who weren’t that righteous, such as Datan, Aviram, Korach etc. There were people who weren’t the best! And they were in the census, and they were allotted to the tribes in the desert, to show us that every Jew counts!

Another point – the Parsha is called Bamidbar – in the desert – and this census is taking place in the desert. Why count the Jews in the desert, a wasteland?

And yet, we’re counting the Jews to strengthen this point: that every Jew, as far as he is and as low as the situation is, makes a difference in Hashem’s eyes. Hashem wants that census – Hashem ordered that census! Hashem wants them to be counted because each Jew is precious. Each Jew – once counted – becomes a vessel to receive within him the Infinite Light.

This is one of the big messages of Sefirat HaOmer and this Parsha of Jewish census, which culminates towards the end of the Sefirat HaOmer. All this counting right before Shavuot is to show us that every detail of us counts.

Even if we may not think that way, even if we think lowly of ourselves, we think that we don’t have much worth because we see all of our bad deeds outweighing our good, still – nonetheless, in Hashem’s eyes, we have value. Every Jew has what’s called a nekudah tova, a good point, and it’s this good point that Hashem counts.

The counting of the Sefirah-Omer days – we count them and we verbalize them, it counts! Us being counted among the census of the Jewish people, we count! We are descendants of these 12 tribes and the 600,000+ Jews who were in the desert.

The point is that we count, and Hashem wants us to be counted, in order to stress and reiterate the value that we have. The value is that when we appreciate our own value, we then serve as vessels to contain within each and every one of us the Light of Hashem – the Infinite Light.

On Shavuot we redo that every year, we go through that experience every year to receive more and more light to shine into our daily lives, thus enabling the light of Hashem to shine into the world.

This article also appears on the BRI website:

For a video presentation of these concepts:


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Shabbat Shalom U’mevorach!
Meir Elkabas

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