We have now reached the series of Torah portions that is a mathematician’s dream. After all, this section of the Torah is called Numbers! In Parshat B’midbar, a census is taken of the Israelite men of military age who would later conquer the Land of Canaan. The total count of these men numbered 603,550. However, each tribe was listed individually. Why did the Torah choose to enumerate the exact number of men in each tribe when it could have just as easily given the total?
One interpretation is that listing by tribe indicates the military prowess present in each tribe, demonstrating how many men it could contribute to battle. Another is that it demonstrates the specificity with which the census was done. Just listing a total number of Israelites, especially one of over 600,000 people, could imply that people were missed, as opposed to showing how many were in each tribe. The interpretation that I prefer is that the listing of the tribes indicates that each one contributed to the development of the Israelite nation. What was important was not the total sum but rather the contributions of each of the individuals who comprised that total. While B’midbar only speaks about men, every man represented so many other people: the elders who could not fight and the wives and children who supported him. The tribe with the most men, Judah, did not count more than the tribe with the fewest men, Manasseh. Rather, each tribe was viewed as necessary and was valued for its contributions to the conquest and settlement of Canaan.
There is a valuable lesson here: just as each tribe was individually valued, so too is each individual valued for what he or she contributes to our community. Rather than just looking at the final outcome, we can take a step back and pride ourselves on the work that it took to reach a certain point. This is a precious lesson that I am taking away from my time in Tucson. In my three years at Congregation Anshei Israel, I have been blessed to develop relationships with so many in the Tucson Jewish community, each of whom counts in my life. Each and every one of you has contributed to my having three wonderful years here. The mentorship of Rabbi Robert Eisen and his wisdom, as well as the great working relationships with my fellow staff members, has helped me to appreciate the value of the work of every individual and to have the confidence to bring the lessons I have learned here to my new community. I will always have a special place in my heart for the Tucson Jewish community, as our richness is comprised of the work of so many. Thanks to each of you for all you have done to make this such a meaningful and rewarding experience.
Rabbi Ben Herman is assistant rabbi at Congregation Anshei Israel. He is leaving Tucson next month to become the rabbi of Jericho Jewish Center on Long Island, N.Y.