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Everyone Counts

In the Torah portion of Bamidbar we learn that G-d commanded Moshe to take a census of the entire community by tribes.1 G-d also told Moshe that while conducting this census “alongside him there shall be one man for each tribe.”2

Rashi explains that Moshe was instructed “that when you count them, there shall be with you the princes of each individual tribe.” Thus, each tribal leader assisted Moshe not only in counting his own tribe, but in tallying the other tribes as well.

The general objective of this census — counting the Jews in order to know their overall number — required that it be done by someone connected to all Jews equally; Moshe fit that bill perfectly. Accordingly, it would have sufficed for Moshe to conduct this count single-handedly, as he had previous counts.

The singular aspect of this count — that of first counting each tribe separately — required that the leader of every tribe take part in the count of his own tribe. But why was it necessary for the tribal leaders to assist in the count of the other tribes as well?

At the very beginning of the Torah portion, Rashi explains that because the Jewish people were very dear to G-d, He counted them frequently. By doing so, G-d revealed their qualities. As the Shaloh explains:3 counting the Jewish people gave them importance; it made them “an object worthy of numeration — that cannot become nullified.”4

The previous counts, in which all Jews were numbered as one entity — revealed the Jews’ general qualities and endearedness that transcends individual differences: the essential quality of the Jewish soul, in regard to which all Jews are exactly alike.

The count in the Torah portion of Bamidbar was intended to reveal the Jews’ individual merits as well. This is why in the latter count each tribe is tallied separately, for each of the 12 tribes had its own distinctive lifestyle, manner of Divine service, etc.

Yet, even while considering the particular qualities of the individual, every Jew remains a part of a single whole. This indicates5 that there was an aspect in this count in which all were equal — notwithstanding that they were counted according to their particular qualities and merits.

We are thus presented with an anomaly: Although this count was connected with the particular qualities of individual Jews — with the inevitable result of highlighting those disparate qualities and merits — nonetheless, every Jew was counted as equal to all other Jews.

The reason for this is the following: Counting the Jews in order to reveal the particular merits of each — counting according to tribes — not only served to emphasize individual qualities in and of themselves , but these qualities taken as a whole comprise one totality — the Jewish people.

It was thus necessary for the tribal leaders to be involved in the census of the other tribes as well, for it was necessary to remind them that their individual tribe constituted part of the Jewish people as a whole.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXIII pp. 3-7.

A Most Revealing Count

The majority of the Torah portion Bamidbar revolves around the census of the Jewish people on the “first day of the second month [Iyar] of the second year of the Exodus,”6 at which time G-d commanded that the nation be counted.

Rashi7 notes that G-d’s love for the Jewish people causes Him to count them at every opportunity. Thus He counted them a) when they departed Egypt; b) after the sin of the Golden Calf and prior to the erection of the Mishkan ; c) with the erection of the Mishkan He counted them yet again, “for the Mishkan was erected on the first of Nissan and He counted them on the first of Iyar ” — exactly one month later.

Surely G-d knew how many Jews there were without a census. Why, then, His repeated requests to count them?

Furthermore, while G-d chose to count the Jewish people three times in a little over a year, we do not find Him commanding a subsequent count for the next 38 years. What reason did He have for counting them at these three specific points?

The census of the Jewish people saw all counted equally; the greatest was counted as no more than one, the least significant was counted as no less than one.

As such, it is understandable that G-d’s love for the Jewish people — a love that finds expression in His counting them at every opportunity — is not the result of their particular merits (which differ from one Jew to another) but because of their quintessential Jewishness, in which all Jews are equal.

Since the quintessential aspect of a Jews’ Jewishness transcends revelation, G-d commanded that the Jewish people be counted — although He surely knew their exact number — in order to reveal this aspect, for “counting” reveals this essential level.

When this quality is invoked within a Jew, he will readily give his very life in order not to be sundered from G-d. More particularly, the revelation of a Jew’s essential Jewishness will generally have one of three effects:

a) It is possible that although this quality is revealed within a Jew, it will not have an ongoing impact on his intellect, emotions, speech and actions.

Thus, while as a rule even the most sinful Jew will face martyrdom rather than deny G-d’s unity,8 this same person may very well transgress in other areas, the reason being that this quality did not influence his intellect, emotions, etc.

b) Alternately, this essential quality may not permeate and transform him, but rather overpower and overwhelm him.9

c) Finally, the quintessential aspect of the person’s Jewishness may so permeate the individual that all his powers and faculties are transformed and act in tandem with this essential quality.

Herein lies the reason for the three counts: At the time of the Exodus, the Jews’ simple faith in G-d was revealed. However, it did not affect their inner powers — the count affected them only on the most elementary level.10

The Mishkan was then to be erected in order for G-d to reveal Himself and reside “within them”11 — within each and every Jew.12 For this to transpire, yet another count was necessary, so that their essential quality would be revealed in a manner that affected their inner powers as well.

Yet this revelation too came about as a result of G-d’s desire to dwell within them, and as such did not transform the Jews themselves. Once the mishkan was erected and G-d resided within them as a result of their own service, the third count permitted the Jews’ essential quality to permeate and transform their entire being.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VIII, pp. 1-6.



1. Bamidbar 1:1-2.
2. Ibid., verse 4.
3. 347a and onward.
4. Beitzah 3b, and citations ad loc; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 110:1; Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein, Orach Chayim 447:20.
5. See Likkutei Sichos VII p. 3ff.
6. Bamidbar 1:1.
7. Ibid.
8. See Tanya ch. 18ff.
9. See Siddur Im Dach, beginning of Sha’ar Lag B’Omer.
10. Thus the reason for the Jewish people having to flee Egypt in great haste. See Tanya ch. 31.
11. Shmos 25:8.
12. See Likkutei Sichos III , p. 906 and places cited there.



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