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Parshat Shemot

By: Rabbi Jason Knapel

We all know that there is a very strong taboo about counting the Jewish people. When the census was taken we did not count the people we counted the coins. When David HaMelech counted the Jews he was punished. A year ago I heard a very interesting explanation as to why it is such a negative thing to count the Jews. The person explained that giving someone a number or making them into a number is a very limiting action. The person is now counted as #__ this is what they are this is what they will always be. It is making the person into a finite idea with no room for change. Since the Jewish people are a people who are supposed to be continuously growing this flies in the face of what we are.

If this is true why then does Hashem “count” the brothers who went down to Egypt? Rashi is bothered by the fact that Torah repeats the count that was already mentioned at the end of Sefer Bereshit – why mention it again. He says that it shows how beloved the Bnei Yaakov were to Hashem that He always wants to count them – they are special to Hashem (This seems to be repeated numerous times throughout the Jews sojourn in the Midbar).
So which is it – is it a negative to count the Jews or does it show the special bond we have with Hashem?

I think the answer is dependent on who is doing the counting. When human beings count it is very hard for them to see beyond the number – beyond the surface. We see the here and the now and not what could be – the potential of every person. We see a number of people as just that, the number. But Hakadosh Baruch Hu sees beyond the surface, He sees to the depth of the person – He sees the potential greatness of each and every individual – as Rashi quotes the Pasuk from Tehillim that He counts each star in the heavens and gives each a name – each star is not just another number in the universe- each one to Hashem has a special identity. So too the Jewish people – each one has his or her greatness that they can achieve in the world.

Our job is not only to see each and every Jew as not just a number but someone special but we need to start with ourselves – each of us is not a number each of us is special in the eyes of Hashem. Each of us has been endowed by the Borei with something that gives us a name not just a number – We just need to look beyond the surface to find it!
Shabbat Shalom