5 Sivan 5782 

Why do we count 50 days to Shavuot?

To listen to recording: https://youtu.be/5RlZ9R0d34c

The journey through the Sinai desert required order, organization, and discipline. The book of Bamidbar contains a considerable number of regulations regarding their physical life in the desert daily as well as their spiritual lives, represented by the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and all that it symbolized.

Tonight, we will celebrate “Shavuot”, which our sages say represents the giving of the Torah to the Chosen People of Israel. The Torah was given in the desert to show us that even in the most inhospitable of places and in the most adverse of situations, we are to comply with the teachings of the Torah and its principles. 

There are many inexplicable reasons as to why the Torah was given in a desert, however if the Torah had been given in a populated area, this would imply that it somehow belongs exclusively to that location and its people but by giving it to us in the desert, the Torah clearly depicts that it does not belong to any particular group rather it belongs to anyone who seeks for it and makes it his own.

In addition to this, a desert evokes the image of a harsh, uncultivated wasteland, symbolic of our physical world. By applying the Torah in our lives and to those in our world around us, for the service of God and for the betterment of humanity, we elevate and refine this “desert”, turning it into a rich and fertile land—an abode for Divinity.

Shavuot originated from an action that we performed, counting 49 days and on the 50th we received the Torah. What does this teach us? That it is up to us to reach Mount Sinai. The Torah is given to us for free, without having to pay a penny, but it’s our task to make the effort and to stretch out our hands to receive it. The counting of the days of the omer is important since each day reminds us that we are getting closer to receiving the light that comes from God’s Torah.

It was in the desert that God gave the Torah to his people, and it is there that He ordered Moses to take a census of the twelve tribes of Israel. As a general rule, the census in the Torah means esteem and importance; it’s an expression of the special preference for the people of Israel, of which they are reminded repeatedly. 

From the leaders of the tribes to the heads of the families, to each man by his father’s house, all who went out to the army from the age of twenty were numbered. Let us remember that the census mentioned in this parashah is not the first. The people had already been counted some seven months before, after Yom Kippur in the first year of the exodus from Egypt.

The Torah refers to the leaders of each tribe in an extensive and detailed way, and does not single out any member of a particular tribe, rather it goes to the trouble of recording each one according to their rank and honor, without skipping over any name.

When referring to the census of the people of Israel, which seems to be of less importance, without many future repercussions, why then does the Torah record every name and every detail? God does so to show them that they were His beloved children and that He does not turn His eyes away from them, even for an instant. The fact that the people of Israel were and are still a persecuted people should not weaken our/their trust in the Eternal when we/they fall into despair, rather this should help us/them recognize that even this comes from Him.

The census verified the love that God had for His people and how He had blessed them. Seventy souls were counted when they arrived in Egypt, when they left, they numbered six hundred thousand and more. The figure was 603,550 men over twenty years of age who were fit for war as we read in Numbers 1: 3, 45 – 46. This number did not include the Levites, who were about 22,000 (from Numbers 3:39). It also excluded women, the elderly, people under twenty years of age, and those unable to take up arms. So many scholars put the total of the children of Israel at more than 2,000,000 souls. This gives us an idea of ​​the enormous task that Moses had when carrying out the census.

So, if the Torah records the families of the tribes in detail, we can see how important and beloved they were to God. If the Eternal asked for a census, His purpose was not to determine, but to demonstrate. He did not ask for the census because he was interested in knowing their number, but rather He asked for it to show His affection for the people He had chosen.

This teaches us that when we understand that we “count”, and that we are important, we can truly raise our heads. Understanding that we can have an impact upon the destiny of the world, that our words and actions matter, fills us with a sense of responsibility, and allows us to grow and become better people.

Let us not forget how important we are to God. He counts us; He knows how many we are, and He knows each one of us individually by name. That should help us walk the path that we travel, whatever it may be. In all circumstances, let us remember that the Creator put His breath, His Ruach into each of us and that is why we are important to Him, and especially to remember that we are eternally linked to Him.

Shabbat Shalom!

Alejandro Alvarado