Jackson’s Dvar Torah
When I found out that my torah portion opens the book of Numbers and contains a census of the Israelite people, I thought this was fitting. For those who may not know, math is my best subject, and it would be my favorite one if it didn’t include geometry. 😊
Numbers are so clear and simple. If you ask a math question, there’s either a right answer or a wrong answer. But other questions in life are less clear, like if you ask about the usage of an Oxford comma or if you have to decide whether to shove a guy in Lacrosse for a penalty to prevent the other team from scoring…. As you see, life is complicated – except for math, where things are very precise.
But math can also be dangerous when we turn people into numbers.
My torah portion contains the only census in the entire Torah because Jewish tradition does not really like the idea of counting people, even though sometimes we have to. My haftarah portion begins with a line that contradicts the message of the Torah reading, stating that the people of Israel shall be as uncountable as the sands of the sea.
But that haftarah isn’t the one I just read, because today is a special day – a day that actually involves counting. We are counting the days until the new Jewish month begins. Actually it’s just one day. Because that month, Sivan, begins tomorrow. So, my haftarah is called “Machar Hodesh,” literally, “the month begins tomorrow.”
My reading also includes an uplifting story about the friendship between Jonathan and David, whose kindness toward each other could not be measured.
We’re constantly trying to find a balance between what should and shouldn’t be counted. According this haftorah, love and friendship cannot be measured.
We don’t want to assign numbers to people – that’s what happened in the Holocaust, when people had numbers tattooed on their arms. But sometimes we do need to count people, for example when holding an election or, more importantly, knowing how much food to order for Bar Mitzvah receptions.
Sometimes, numbers help you remember important lessons. The great sage Maimonides came up with a list of eight levels of charity – tzedakah – which is reflected by my bar mitzvah project. I put together bags with beauty products like lip balm and bath salts along with pink ribbons and laminated words of encouragement. I chose words like hope, strength, and perseverance and donated the bags to my mom’s breast cancer patients. I wanted to remind the women of their inner and outer strength and beauty. Because I never met the women who received the gifts, I also satisfied Maimonides’ second level of charity which was to give assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other.
So you can see that Numbers play a big role in my torah portion, just as they play a big role in my life. However, my reading was a reminder that people are more than just numbers and we should never lose sight of the human element.
Screen grabs from the Zoom video