Do you count?
There are an estimated 7,888,000,000 people in the world.
You're 1 of them.
Do you feel like you count?
We are told repeatedly in our democratic society that "our vote counts." Do we feel like it does amidst the sea of over 300+ million Americans?
At a rally, we feel united with the masses towards our cause, but would the throngs in the streets look any different if we were absent?
We could just become radically individualistic, solitary people, but it won’t help because what is our contribution if not to the greater whole?
In principle, God doesn't like us being counted.
On my recent school trip, my students thought it was funny that I would follow the custom of counting them by using the words of a verse that has ten words (הושיעה את עמך וברך את נחלתך ורעם ונשאם עד עולם). One of the reasons we avoid counting people is because numbers are depersonalizing. This was especially poignant since we were traveling in Poland where our people were literally reduced to numbers.
God promises Avraham, that He would multiply us like the stars of the heavens "if you could count them,” (which you can’t).
Stars are the perfect way to think about people.
Every star stands on its own and is a world unto itself, with entire planets that orbit it, and unique moons that orbit those planets. Yet, together, they are part of something larger — forming constellations, enormous galaxies and the entire cosmos, which even the mind's eye cannot catch up to its frontier.
We see, though, that Hashem does count us — quite often actually. The Book of Bamidbar, literally "In the Desert," was originally coined as the "Book of Numbers" by the sages as it opens with the third census in a year's time.
We are counted במספר שמות "with number-names," a combination of terms that seems to be both redundant and self-contradictory. What does it mean? Why does the Almighty count us if He wants us to be uncountable?
The word used for this census, and the specific word choice for "number" in the title "Book of Numbers" is "Pikudim" פקודים (as opposed to the more common "misparim" מספרים).
Normally, מספרים "numbers" are anonymous. In a jar of pennies, any given penny only has a number depending on which one you started counting them with. It's totally random and essentially meaningless in and of itself.
פקודים, however, taps into a different dimension of counting. On a chessboard, every piece has its role in the greater whole. The knight and the rook serve different functions. Even the right knight and the left knight, although they may look the same, have a unique niche. And yes, even the pawns contribute in unique ways depending on where they stand.
The word "tafkid" תפקיד means "job," and the word "lifkod" לפקוד aside from "count" means "to remember."
We have to remember that which is hidden inside of us. When things are counted externally, they are just a bunch of pennies in a jar. All the same. But when we remember and see the inner essence of ourselves and other people, we see that every person has a unique mission and a job that is irreplaceable in the whole. The problem is that in the hustle and bustle, we forget our role, and therefore feel like a nameless splotch in a sea of splotches.
Hashem counts us not because He cares about the industrial bottom line — because "more is better." Hashem counts us to remind us that we count.
Each one of us is an invaluable member of our nation. From this perspective, our number is our name. Our essence is our unique place in the collective.
The success of our team is in the success of its members, and the success of every member is through the success of the team.
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