Published on May 9, 2021
This week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar has a particular relevance to the festival of Shavuot. We can find this connection in the opening words of the portion, where G-d commands, “Count the number of all the congregation of the Children of Israel.”
Rashi comments on the command: “Because they [the Children of Israel] are dear to Him, He counts them all the time: when they went forth from Egypt He counted them; when they fell because of [the sin of] the Golden Calf, He counted them; when He was about to make His Presence dwell among them (i.e., in the Tabernacle) He counted them.”
When things are counted, they stand in a relation of equality; the greatest man and the least are each counted once; no more, no less. And since, as Rashi tells us, the census was a token of G-d’s love, it must have been a gesture towards that which is equal in every Jew. Not his intellect, not his moral standing, but his essence: his Jewish soul. So the point of the census was to bring the soul of each Jew into prominence, to the surface of awareness.
Rashi writes that G-d counts His people all the time; and yet, as Rashi himself points out, they were counted only three times in the first year and once the month after leaving Egypt. Then they were counted only once more during their wanderings in the wilderness, and subsequently only at very infrequent intervals (according to a Midrash, only a total of nine times until today, and the tenth time will be when Moshiach comes). But, if the point of the counting was to reveal the essence of each Jewish soul, then this revelation has a depth which places it beyond the erosion of time – it is operative, literally, all the time.
The differences between the three countings which Rashi mentions were evolutionary stages in a process of revelation. In the first, the Jewish soul was awakened by the love of G-d; in the second, it began to work its influence on the external life of the Israelites; and in the third, it finally suffused all their actions.
The first census was on the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, and it aroused their spirit of self-sacrifice to the extent that they followed G-d into a barren wilderness. But it left their emotions untouched.
The second was prior to building the Tabernacle. It reached their intel-lect and emotions, because they were preparing for the work that was to bring G-d’s Presence into their midst. But still the impetus came from outside: G-d’s command set them to their work, not inner compunction.
But with the third census came the actual service of the Tabernacle, when the Israelites – by their own actions – brought G-d into their midst. Then all their actions were a testimony to the union of the Jewish soul with G-d.
In this way, the connection between Bamidbar and Shavuot becomes clear. When the Torah was given, Israel and G-d were united in such a way that G-d sent down His revelation from above; and the Children of Israel were themselves elevated. And we read, in preparation for our annual re-creation of the event, the portion which tells us of the third census when the two modes of revelation are brought together. Moshiach NOW!!!