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Two Minutes of Torah: Bamidbar - Look how far we've come

When we talk about numbers, there’s a point where the numbers become almost inconceivable because of the vastness and the size of them.  When we think in small numbers, we can imagine four people, we can imagine ten people, we can even imagine what two hundred, three hundred people look like.  And with sporting venues we can maybe even get up to fifty, sixty thousand.  But once we start getting above those kind of numbers into the hundreds of thousands, it’s really hard to imagine what that means and what that’s like.  And, in some ways, the numbers can lose a sense of meaning.

This week’s Torah Portion of Bamidbar begins with just that kind of list of numbers.  As we take the census of the Israelite males over the age of twenty in the wilderness.  At this point, as we begin numbering off the different tribes, we get numbers of forty-six thousand five hundred, fifty-nine thousand three hundred, forty-five thousand six hundred and fifty and so on.  The vastness of these numbers is hard to imagine.  Ultimately concluding with the total number of Israelite males age twenty and over at six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty. 

The implication must have been that if that was the males alone over the age of twenty, there were probably something like two million Israelites in the wilderness when the census was taken.  This contrasts with the book of Shemot, Exodus, which begins with the names of Jacob’s twelve sons who went down to Egypt and we’re told that seventy souls went down to Egypt with Jacob because Joseph was there already. 

From seventy to six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty if not more.  It is clear that in the four hundred and thirty years in Egypt and the one year in the wilderness, we, as a people, have grown from a family into a real community, a nation.  Amidst the enormity of the numbers of the census, it would be easy to lose sight of the individual people who made up those Israelites counted by Moses. 

In contrast with the book of Exodus, Shemot which begins with the lists of the names of Jacob’s sons, we have this six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty, an almost incomprehensible number.   But, yet we still have individuals.  Because before we get those numbers, we’re told of the twelve people who will help Moses and Aaron with the counting of the Israelites.  From Reuben Elizur son of Shedeur, from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, from Judah Nahshon, son of Amminadab – and, so on and so forth.  We remember that despite the growth, despite how far we have come from a family into a nation – individuals still matter. 

And that nation is still made up of individuals and each one of those six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty people count as well.  We’ve come a long way from the family that moved down to Egypt and grown exponentially but at the same time we remember, no how big the nation, the people or the community, it still, at its core, about the individuals of which its comprised.

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