Drash on Parshat BaMidbar – Numbers 1:1-4:20
Rabbi Em Mueller
The whole of the book of Numbers – BaMidbar – begins with God’s command to take a census of the Israelites. (1:2). Rabbi Joseph A. Skloot, in his commentary at reformjudaism.org, points out the dehumanizing aspect of numbers: we are known by our social security number; by our bank numbers; by our address. He then tells us that Rashi turns this whole idea on its head, telling us that “Out of love for them, God counted them often.”
But isn’t this giving too much importance to numbers? The very first verse of this parashat, the beginning of the book of Numbers, tells us: “God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting on the first day of the second month . . . “ From this, we learn that place, and action, supersede numbers. First God speaks, then we are told where they are, then numbers enter.
In Genesis, as well, the number comes after an action: God separates light from darkness; sees that this is good; and then we have the number: “It was evening; it was morning; day one.”
Numbers are not as important to God as action. If God needs all these accountings, perhaps it’s not because God loves us so much but rather that God forgets how many we are, because the number is not important.
All of this is reflected in today’s world. We are obsessed by how many Jews there are; if they are observant or not; how many are intermarrying; how many children of intermarried families claim Judaism as their own. . . . Are the numbers what we should be focusing on, or rather the actions. What are we doing to keep Judaism alive? How are we bringing the light of Judaism into the world, to help solve world problems? Are we creating a Judaism that will nourish our souls?
May each of us find new ways to bring the light of Judaism into our lives.