Making each person count
TorahParshat Naso

Making each person count

Numbers 4:21 – 7:89

(File photo)
(File photo)

In 1986, the Lubavitcher Rebbe of Blessed Memory, began conducting a weekly “receiving line.” Each Sunday, the Rebbe would stand in a small room near his office as thousands of men, women and children filed past to see him and receive his blessing. Many used the opportunity to pose a question and receive a word of advice. And to each of them the Rebbe gave a dollar bill, appointing them as his personal agent (shaliach) to give it to the charity of their choice.

Why the dollar? The Rebbe explained his custom by quoting his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, who would often say: “When two Jews meet, something good should result for a third.” The Rebbe wished to elevate each of the thousands of encounters of the day to something more than a meeting of two individuals; he wanted each to involve the performance of a mitzvah, particularly a mitzvah that also benefits another individual.

A most amazing phenomenon was reported by all who came for “Sunday Dollars.” The Rebbe, well into his ninth decade, would stand for as long as eight hours without interruption. Yet in the few seconds that a visitor was with the Rebbe, each felt that the Rebbe was there only for them. It was as though each person were the only visitor of the day.

Once, an elderly woman could not contain herself and burst out: “Rebbe, How do you do it? How is it that you do not tire?”

The Rebbe smiled and replied: “Every soul is a diamond. Can one grow tired of counting diamonds?”

With these words the Rebbe taught us a vital lesson: Within the Jewish community, there is often a strong emphasis on the act of counting ourselves in one way or another. Our communal dialogue frequently revolves around tracking our numbers as a nation and examining our demographic shifts. It seems that hardly a year goes by without warnings about the diminishing Jewish populations in various communities worldwide, attributed to factors such as low birth rates, assimilation and the like. The significance of these population counts can vary, as they are utilized for different purposes and agendas.

The origin of counting our people can be found in the Torah. In fact, the book of Bamidbar, also known as the Book of Numbers, received its name due to its extensive focus on counting. Throughout Bamidbar, there are several instances where G-d instructs Moses to conduct various counts of the Jewish community. These counts serve practical purposes, such as organizing the people, determining their military strength and establishing their tribal structure.

However, alongside the emphasis on counting, Bamidbar also emphasizes caution and provides guidance on how counting should be approached. In the Torah portion Parshas Naso, which we read this week, there is a specific instruction to count the people. Interestingly, the Hebrew word used for counting in this portion is “Naso,” which means “to lift up” or “to elevate.”

This choice of terminology provides a profound lesson on the primary principle of counting people. It reminds us that the
act of counting should not reduce individuals to mere numbers but should instead lift them up and make them feel valued and significant. The Torah is conveying the importance of recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of each person, ensuring that they are not lost in the numerical calculations.

In the teachings of the Rebbe, it is beautifully expressed that when counting the people, they should be regarded as diamonds. This analogy underscores the preciousness and uniqueness of each individual, emphasizing the need to create an environment where they feel genuinely counted and appreciated.

By using the word “Naso” and emphasizing the principle of uplifting, the Torah encourages us to count people in a way that acknowledges their importance, respects their individuality and fosters a sense of dignity and belonging. It reminds us that counting should go beyond the mere gathering of data; it should be a means to empower and uplift individuals, making them feel that they truly count. PJC

Rabbi Mendel Rosenblum is director of Chabad of the South Hills. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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