Posted by: jdiscover | May 14, 2010

No One is a Number!

When we count for a minyan, the quorum of ten, needed for the public recitation of certain prayers, we do so in a very strange way. Some count by saying; “Nisht ein, nisht drei… Not one, not two…” Others use a biblical verse with 10 words, assigning a word to each individual. Some have adopted an American version, counting each person with; “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light.” The key to all of these systems is that – no one is a number!

So what are we to make of this week’s Torah Portion? This Shabbat we begin the Book of Numbers. Moses is commanded to take a census; to count the Israelites.

A close examination of the command reveals that Moses too is instructed to count in a unique respectful way. God charges Moses; “Siu et rosh kol adat b’nai Yisrael…Lift up each head of the community of Israel.” The people are not to be simply counted. The census is to be conducted in a manner that lifts up each head. The census takers are to look each person in the eyes, noticing their unique individuality as part of the counting. In fact the Midrash explains, each person was asked their name. No one is a number!

The commentary “Beit Aharon” beautifully explains: “Each person must know and think that he is unique in his/her own way, and that there never was anyone like him/her before…. In truth everyone is a new creation in the world…. Not only must we recognize the uniqueness of every other individual; we must also discover our own uniqueness and the special contribution which it is our privilege to make.”

As we start the Book of Numbers, as a census is being taken in our day, let us each be reminded of this central Jewish teaching to the world – everyone has a name. Each and every person we interact with is a unique creation of God and is to be treated in a manner that “lifts up their head.” And we too should lift up our own heads, standing tall and proud of our own uniqueness. No one is a number!

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

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