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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Counting

By Rabbi Sender Haber

We know that the Jewish people were never counted directly. Each Jew would give a half-shekel coin and that Half-shekel coin would be counted. This is the halacha until today. We do not count Jews. We can count hats and lists of names and possibly noses or fingers – but we don’t count Jews.

The interesting thing is that as much as we don’t count number s are important. We count for a minyan, we count for a mezuman, three fathers, four mothers, forty eight prophets, and seven prophetesses. We count. In the final analysis Moshe does count the Jewish people.

Furthermore, the Gemara in Yoma 22 tells us something surprising:
R. Yonasan asked: It is written: ‘Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea,’ and it is also written: ‘Which cannot be numbered? Here it speaks of the time when Israel fulfils the will of the Lord, there of the time when they do not fulfill His will. Rebbi on behalf of Abba Yose son of Dostai, said: This is no contradiction: Here it speaks of [counting done] by human beings, there of counting by Heaven.

Apparently, only Hashem can count the Jewish people.

In the times of Dovid there was a terrible mistake. The Jewish people were counted directly. The Navi tells us that 70,000 people died in the resulting plague.

The Pirkei D’rabi Elazar writes that it was actually just one person who died. That one person was Avishai ben Tzeruyah – one of David’s general’s – and he was considered equal to 70,000 men.

It seems kind of odd to count one person as 70,000, but that is exactly the point. The Jewish people cannot be counted, because we cannot possibly know how much each person is worth. We are all dependent upon each other. Whether we are generals or janitors, no matter what our qualifications and talents are we should count as more than just ourselves.

I saw a beautiful idea from Reb Michel Twerski, shlita. The Torah tells us that Hashem commanded both Moshe and Aharon to count the Jewish people. But the word Aharon has dots over it to tell us that he did not actually go and count them.

How could he defy Hashem’s command? Reb Michel explains that the Leviim understood that they were not just being counted. They were being appointed to be caretakers for the holiest objects in Judaism. They shied away from that counting. It took an Aharon to go and raise them up and tell them that they were up to the task. Only then was Moshe able to get the names and take the census.

In general, we shouldn’t even count, just as we shouldn’t judge. When we do counts, it should be with an Aharon Hakohein at our side to assist and encourage every human being and to tell him about his or her potential. Hashem is always allowed to count. Because Hashem sees our true value. We need to count for more.

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