Divrei Torah

The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs

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Parshat Bamidbar- Unity and Uniqueness

By: Rav Yechezkel Yakovson

The central theme of our parsha is the command to count the adult male members of the Jewish People, and the execution of this command.

Referring to the verse "Count (si'u) the heads of the community of the Jewish People" (Bamidbar 1:2), the Midrash comments that the positive terminology of raising the people (romem, gadel) is not employed. Rather, the Torah states "siu", that is associated with the work of an executioner ("sav rayshe depalan"-off with his head!).

The Ramban is amazed. Why did the Midrash transform a positive phrase (siu normally implies an exalted position and greatness) into a negative meaning? One should not point to the death of that generation in the desert as the cause for this comment, for this terminology is also utilized in reference towards the generation that indeed entered the Land of Israel (Bamidbar 26:2).

Indeed, another Midrash takes a positive approach towards the word "siu". Similar to the servant who served beverages in the court of Paroh ("yisa Paroh et roshcha") who merited to return to his previous position, the Jewish People are elevated. Furthermore they are compared to Hashem, Whom is exalted above all.

The Midrash states that the ambivalent nature of the word siu sent the following message to Moshe Rabeinu. If worthy, the Jewish People will be elevated. If not, they will die.

This issue demands further clarification. Why does the Torah allude to life and death, blessings and curses, gain and danger at this specific moment? Why is this hint contained under the title "siu et rosh.."?

Apparently, each count of the Jewish People contains both of these components. The census is intended to unite the separate entities into one body, with a singular goal. While entering the desert the census was intended to organize the treks in the desert. Prior to entering the Land of Israel it was necessary to prepare for the conquering and settling of the Land. All private individuals were molded into one unit to accomplish these goals.

Yet, a potential danger accompanies the uniting of the forces. The individual may lose his sense of worth. After all, he has become a mere number amongst a sum of people. The community may disregard the value and needs of individuals. The individual himself may become oblivious to his unique qualities; he no longer identifies himself as a "small world". In the name of the community, the individual is trampled (one need not look into ancient history to find numerous examples of this process).

This danger highlights the fact that a plague-negef- may erupt as a result of an improper census (Shmot 30:12). In the period of Sefirat HaOmer we recall the plague that afflicted the students of Rabi Akiva who did not properly respect one another. The giving of a half-shekel, that indicates that each individual is incomplete on his own merits, atones for and rectifies this pitfall.

Thus the Torah reminds us that a counting of the Jewish People leads us to an exalted state; unity is a positive quality. Yet we must be vigilant that the unity is not attained at the price of quashing the unique qualities of the individual members of the community. All should utilize their special qualities in order to accomplish our joint goals and aspirations.


Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Bamidbar
Uploaded: 8/31/2005 6:02:57 PM