Does Your Story Add Up?
The salutation on the letter I received from the US Census Bureau was hardly warm and personal. It read, “Dear Resident.” Now, as a law abiding, patriotic and taxpaying citizen, it would hardly upset the Republic if I was greeted by the feds with, “Dear beloved citizen, Aliza Davidovit.” So be it, even without Uncle Sam’s reciprocal sentiments, my heart will mend. Nonetheless, it is a humbling thought that our existence, as per the census at least, is a mere statistic. You have been counted, but do you count?
What have you counted for in this lifetime? Have you been a mere number or have you counted for one but lived as if you alone were an entire army, an indomitable force that gave life to your convictions, gave love to the world, gave hope to the downtrodden, gave kindness a home, and served the will of God? Anyone who knows a bit about computer programming knows that any image we see on a screen is composed of pixels, and those pixels are composed of numbers. Change any number on the computer and the picture you see will change. Do you really know your own number and what spiritual image you are conjuring and casting? Where are you in sequence relative to your obligations to Judaism, to your fellow Jew, to our Holy Land of Israel? When we are at the DMV or a bakery, we all know our number; G-d forbid we should miss our turn. But in relation to G-d, we are hardly so conscientious. Perhaps we have all stepped out of place and that is why the image of a fractured troubled world is being projected.
In this week’s Torah reading, Bamidbar, we read how G-d commands Moses to take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. The sages teach that G-d wants a counting of His people for a different reason than governments. G-d counts out of love. Each is precious to Him. For certain, as the All-Knowing, does He really need to count? Doesn’t He already know exactly how much of everything there is? He could have easily told Moses the census count is 603,550. But any collector of fine things knows that you count and count again what you love. And this counting of His children was hardly impersonal; it was by name and father’s house and tribe.
But the count my friends is not only precious for the counter, but also for the counted. Imagine having three kids and in front of them only count two. The hurt is unfathomable. We each want to be counted and want to count. But with that acknowledgement comes responsibility. G-d is not just counting His children, He is counting on them as well. He is counting on you: Don’t just be a Jew at heart, i.e., “A Cardiac Jew,” be a Jew in thought, speech and action.
Fear not, G-d doesn’t want clones. He values your individuality or you wouldn’t be here. Just as each tribe had its own flag and color and gem, you too have a unique special attribute with which Hashem gifted you. And you are meant to use it in His service and in a concert with your fellow Jew. Yes, every Jew has to keep the commandments, but one is also compelled to offer what is unique in them. Look deep into yourself. The best mirror of oneself is the study and observance of Torah. It really shows you who you are, who you are not and what you should be and can be. The sages teach us that there are 248 limbs in the body corresponding to the positive commandments and 365 tendons corresponding to the negative commandments (equaling the 613 commandments), which comprise the entire commandments in the Torah. My question to you is how many of your body parts are acting in service to God? If the parts make the whole, then how much of you is acting Jewish? The statistical odds of being born Jewish is small. Value your uniqueness and rarity. Don’t just be counted or lazily count yourself out, count for something! You can fool the whole world, but G-d Himself knows your number; and it’s your duty, as G-d’s treasured children, to add up to much much more!
In memory of my best friend Phil Sieradski