The salutation on the letter I received from the US Census Bureau in March was hardly warm and personal. It read, “Dear Resident.” Now, as a law abiding, patriotic and taxpaying citizen, it would hardly upset the Republic if I was greeted by the feds with, “Dear beloved citizen, Aliza Davidovit.” So be it, even without Uncle Sam’s reciprocal sentiments, my heart will mend. After all, it is still life affirming to be tallied among the living, especially since Covid-19 from whence we tally daily and precipitously the infected and the dead. Nonetheless, it is a humbling thought that our existence, as per the census at least, is a mere statistic. You have been counted, but do you count?
A heavy cloud has beset the world. If being just a number, a statistic, a dispensable cog wasn’t enough, now we are further dehumanized by wearing face coverings and driven into prescribed isolation. Our smiles and dimples, our frowns and grimaces, our personalized interface with the world, further diminished.
Hypothetically, what if it were true, as some believe, that Messianic times are upon us and that current events presage Gog and Magog, a bloody apocalypse? Now that so many of the things we deemed as vitally important just a few months ago have lost their relevance in light of the Coronavirus, what is left of us? The scale of our personal worth has been re-calibrated. Now that simplicity has, by mere practicality, obviated ostentation and that the toilet-paper frenzy mobilized greater masses than the Klondike Gold Rush, how has your value changed in this world? What have you counted for in this lifetime? Have you been a mere number or have you counted for one but lived as if you alone were an entire army, an indomitable force that gave life to your convictions, gave love to the world, gave hope to the downtrodden, gave kindness a home, and served the will of God? Anyone who knows a bit about computer programming knows that any image we see on a screen is composed of pixels, and those pixels are composed of numbers. Change any number on the computer and the picture you see will change. Do you really know your own number and what spiritual image you are conjuring and casting? Where are you in sequence relative to your obligations to Judaism, to your fellow Jew, to our Holy Land of Israel? When we are at the DMV or a bakery we all know our number; G-d forbid we should miss our turn. But in relation to G-d, we are hardly so conscientious. Perhaps we have all stepped out of place and that is why a disjointed, fractured national image is being projected.
In this week’s Torah reading, Bamidbar, we read how G-d commands Moses to take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. The sages teach that G-d wants a counting of his people for a different reason than governments. G-d counts out of love. Each is precious to Him. For certain, as the All-Knowing, does He really need to count? Doesn’t He already know exactly how much of everything and anything there is? He could have told Moses here in Sinai now the census count is 603,550. But any collector of fine things knows that you count and count again what you love. And this counting of His children was hardly impersonal; it was by name and father’s house and tribe. But the count is not only precious for the counter, but also for the counted. Imagine having three kids and in front of them only count two. The hurt is unfathomable. We each want to be counted and want to count. But with that acknowledgement comes responsibility. G-d is not just counting his children, He is counting on them as well. He is counting on you: Don’t just be a Jew at heart, i.e., “A Cardiac Jew,” be a Jew in deed. Just as each tribe had its own flag and color and gem, you too have a unique special attribute that Hashem gifted you with. And you are meant to use it in His service and in a concert with your fellow Jew. Yes, every Jew has to keep the 613 commandments but one is also compelled to offer what is unique in them. Look deep into yourself, to the part that even a mask can’t conceal. The best mirror of oneself is the study and observance of Torah. It really shows you who you are, who you are not and what you should be and can be. The sages teach us that there are 248 limbs in the body corresponding to the positive commandments and 365 tendons corresponding to the negative commandments (equaling 613), which comprise the entire commandments in the Torah. My question to you is how many of your body parts are acting in service to God? If the parts make the whole, then how much of you is acting Jewish? The statistical odds of being born Jewish is small. Value your uniqueness and rarity. Don’t just be counted or lazily count yourself out, count for something! You can fool the whole world, but G-d Himself knows your number; and it’s your duty, as G-d’s treasured children, to add up to much more!