Parshat Bamidbar opens up with the counting of Bnei Yisrael. For this reason, the English translation of Bamidbar is “Numbers” while the literal translation would be “in the desert”. This would be the third time that Bnei Yisrael was counted within the span of a year. So why is the nation being counted so many times? Surely one counting would have sufficed.
Rashi suggests that the counting of the Jewish people is one way Hashem expresses affection for the Jews. This is an interesting interpretation because it is seemingly contradictory to what the Torah states is associated with the counting; the Torah originally implies that risk comes along with the counting: “וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַיהֹוָה”. Furthermore, King David organized a similar census for the Jewish people. However, about 70,000 people were killed. If these things are true, how could we continue to use Rashi’s answer and say that this was an act of love?
An answer can be found in the second pasuk of the Parsha. The pasuk states “שְׂאוּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ כׇּל־עֲדַת- lift the head of the nation”. Why does the Torah use this language of the word “lift” rather than the word “count”?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks believes the following to be the answer: when a group or crowd is referred to as a whole, it tends to lose its recognition of independent intimacy. When the Torah says “lift the head”, it is inherently implying that individual people are counted. Additionally, studies have shown that when a person is part of a larger group, it is easier for them to be swayed or not think for themselves. The term “mob mentality” explains this phenomenon. This essentially means that once a part of a “mob” or a larger group, it becomes nearly impossible to retain any form of an integral conviction.
A fundamental idea in Judaism is that each and every person is created in G-d's image. Part of being created in G-d's image is the responsibility to maintain each of our own unique identities and principles. G-d commanding Moshe to count by “lifting our heads” reinforces the idea of individualism and more personal connections between the people and G-d.
By: Sarah Posner (10th)