GOD is Counting on you

In reality, GOD placed each member of the body as he saw fit.” (Rav Shaul, 1 Corinthians 12:18)

In the writings of Rav Shaul an important teaching is implied: GOD knows which cells to place in the human body to fulfill its function, so when a cell behaves poorly, disease ensues.

A summary of Parashat Bamidbar is a census for all Israelite males between the ages of 20 and 60 who are fit for the army, except for the Levites who were counted in another census during which responsibilities, organization, and roles were assigned. They were given an identity expressed through standards or flags, as well as a sense of belonging to their families, clans, tribes, and society.

What I love about this portion is that it moves from a larger to a smaller unit, as Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. This is also the principle of Gestalt therapy, as Noelia Sobrino explains, “When several parts are combined to form a whole, a new entity is created with characteristics and properties not found in each of the individual parts.”

If we analyze it taking a step back, we can see that this is an application of “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  You may ask how. This idea stems from verses 2-4: “Take a census of the entire congregation of the children of Israel by their tribes, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every man head by head; from twenty years old and upward, all who are able to join the army in Israel, you and Aaron will count them as your armies. And there will be with you a man from each tribe, each one being the head of his father’s house.

By fulfilling the purpose of the individual, we generate self-love (i.e. our identity) which then becomes collective love (i.e. national identity), thus demonstrating love for our neighbor. Do you think my going to the army to defend a stranger at the cost of my own life, interests and family, doesn’t require love for others?

When we dig a little deeper, we begin to see that it is referring to a greater purpose: The congregation of Israel – included here, although not counted in the portion, are women, the elderly, those under 20 years of age and those unfit for army service.

It is further divided by each tribe’s function and their physical organization within the camp. Later it tells us about each paternal house, i.e. each family, ending with a name, i.e. the personal identity of each man denoting the individual. This axiom demonstrates the purpose that can be added at each level without altering the result; it is like saying, ISRAEL= NAMED INDIVIDUALS + FAMILIES + TRIBES.

If a person lacks a name that represents their identity, they will not be able to form a family from the paternal house with that name. If there are no families, there will be no identifiable tribe, and if there are no tribes there will be no nation. This is the message that I would like to highlight – “if there is no identity, there is no future.”

Identity is seen in this portion in a variety of ways. Numbers 1:5 names a series of individuals with their clear identity as leaders, then during the census, this phrase is repeated: “their lineages by their families, by their paternal houses according to the counting of names ……. those who were counted were….”.

That means that according to the Torah, the individual’s identity involves the responsibility of the man of the home. In a society where the role of men in the family has been diminished or where there is an increase of irresponsible fathers, it is vital for men to stand up today, and decide in our hearts, to behave as men who are up to the task of fulfilling our role of instilling identity in our children.

GOD counts names, not human beings. Why? Because we are not cattle. To governments, banks or any other type of entity that registers us, we are simply numbers. We are a number on our driver’s license; we are a number on our social identity, a customer number for companies, a bank account number, etc. Little by little, our names are disappearing and we don’t realize it. And here is what I mean: in my case, not only am I a number, referring to Mauricio Quintero (my secular name), but my identity, who I am, is being erased. Today, the BDS movement against Israel, by calling us colonialists, fascists, genocidal, apartheid, etc. is working to erase the identity of Israel and change it from being a nation that walks directly with GOD. It is more important now than ever for us to be clear about our identity.

There is something interesting about the Hebrew word – “count” which is usually cheshbon or minyan. However, here I am quoting Rabbi Sholom Raichik who mentions the following in his article “‘Is GOD simply treating me like a number?’ Throughout the Torah a different word is used for counting – pekudim.” In this portion this word is used in different derivatives (pekudeichem, pekudat, pekod, pekudei, pekudim, pekudav, etc.) … at least 30 times.

And the teaching of Rabbi Raichik is beautiful; I’d like to highlight that the word – pekudim – count, used in the Hebrew Bible refers to: First, “Remember, as in “GOD remembered (pakad) Sarah. And Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham,” or in GOD’s promise to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt: “GOD will surely remember you (pakod yifkod) and bring you out of this land.”  Second, To be missing or missed, as in the famous haftarah about David and Jonathan: “David’s place was missing(vayipakeid). Third, Assign, as in the responsibilities of the Levites: “And the assignment (pekudat) of the Merari family.” Fourth, Destiny, as in Korach’s rebellion: “And the destiny (pekudat) of all men will fall upon them.” And fifth, Count, as when Moses accounts for all the donations to build the Tabernacle: “This is the accounting (pekudei) of the Tabernacle.”

When I read this explanation, what occurred to me was that at the moment of the counting, GOD was assigning an identity to each person. How? First by His expression of love from the Eternal to each one of us, just as He “remembered” Sarah, GOD remembers the existence of every one of us. Perhaps you have wanted something for years that you have now forgotten, but GOD (pakod yifkod) will remember you.

GOD also tells us that He misses us and that we are important to Him. When He counts on us, it is because when we are not there, we are missed.

This shows us that GOD gives each of us an assignment, a role, a purpose in life (our destiny) within society and community. With our role comes responsibility, because GOD trusts us to develop it appropriately. This gives us a name, a reputation. My desire is that, when I say, “Yosef ben Abraham (my Hebrew name)”, I have built an identity that is easy to identify.

This week I listened to Rabbi Ishaí Harari, speaking on how our soul can make Tikun (reparation) in this life. He said, “your gifts and abilities make you unique on this earth, give you identity.” For example, some sing, others study, others give hugs; it doesn’t matter, but what you are good at is how you will achieve your Tikun on earth, and thus you will be able to fulfill your life’s purpose, or the role that GOD wants you to develop in this world.

It is difficult to express, but we are GOD’s assets on earth. We do not really belong to ourselves, because it is clearly written when He says things like: “You are My people, sheep of His pasture, His witnesses, among other names that denote that we are His servants.” As Tehillim 100:3 says, “We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” And like every asset, we are precious and invaluable to GOD, and we are required by Him to do His will on Earth. I have no logical explanation as to why GOD wants us to do His Will, when He, being GOD, can do it through His word. However, I think it’s because He is immutable in time, and whether things happen or not, they won’t change him. On the other hand, if good things happen in this world through us, we will benefit, because we will discover reasons to live, and this will help us in our Tikun.

What are we then? We are Israel. We are light. We are an army. We are a nation. We are peace. We are His children. We are special to the Eternal. Stop believing lies about who you are not; GOD is counting on you today… will you show up for the census?

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero