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    Counting the

    The opening verses of this week’s
    Torah portion, Ki Sisa, convey G-d’s
    instruction to Moses on how to count the
    Jewish people. When it is necessary to
    conduct a census, Jews are to be counted
    not in an ordinary manner, person by
    person, but rather, every member of the
    community should contribute a coin for
    charity, and then the coins should be
    counted to determine how many people
    What is the rationale behind this
    instruction? Why the need to count the
    community in such a round-about
    fashion, rather than simply counting the
    people directly?
    Two messages, it seems, are being
    conveyed here.

    What Are You Worth?
    First, the Torah is suggesting that you
    are counted not based on who you are
    but on what you give. Your genuine
    value and worth spring forth from your
    contribution to another soul, from the
    love and kindness you impart to another
    Sir Moses Montefiore, a 19th century
    Jewish international diplomat and
    philanthropist, was once asked how
    much he was worth. The wealthy man
    thought for a while and named a figure.
    The other replied, “That can’t be right.
    By my calculation you must be worth
    many times that amount.”
    Moses Montefiore’s reply was this:
    “You didn’t ask me how much I own.
    You asked me how much I’m worth. So I
    calculated the amount I have given to
    charity this year and that is the figure I
    gave you. You see,” he said, “we are
    worth what we are willing to share with

    Evaluating a people
    Yet, there seems to be a one
    more vital message presented in
    this instruction, one that would
    reverberate throughout history.
    To appreciate the value and
    greatness of a people, the Torah
    is suggesting, you must study not
    the number of its bodies, but the
    breadth of their contributions.
    What matters most is not the
    quantity of its adherents, but rather their
    commitment towards making a
    difference and their inspiration and
    readiness to make sacrifices for their
    values and ideals. Numbers can be
    deceiving. Large groups of people often
    barely leave a trace. On the other hand,
    there are times that small groups, when
    committed heart and soul to their mission
    statement, have left an enormous impact,
    totally disproportionate to their numbers.
    To appreciate the significance of Jewish
    existence, the Bible is telling us, you
    must study not its numbers: Jews never
    constituted more than one percent of
    society. Rather, you must examine the
    impact this little monotheistic group
    has had on the world. Other nations,
    cultures and civilizations enjoyed far
    greater numbers, larger territories and
    mightier armies. But no other person
    or nation has left an impression on the
    very fabric of civilization as the
    relatively few and often hunted and
    persecuted descendants of Abraham,
    Isaac and Jacob.
    As the Irish writer Thomas Cahill
    wrote in his national bestseller The
    Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of
    Desert Nomads Changed the Way
    Everyone Thinks and Feels:
    “Most of our best words in fact –
    new, adventure, surprise; unique
    individual, person, vocation; time,
    history, future; freedom, progress,
    spirit; faith, hope and justice—are the
    gifts of the Jews … We can hardly get
    up in the morning or cross the street
    without being Jewish. We dream
    Jewish dreams and hope Jewish
    Here is a passage by historian Paul
    Johnson in his bestseller “History of
    the Jews:”
    “All the great conceptual discoveries
    of the intellect seem obvious and
    inescapable once they have been
    revealed, but it requires a special

    genius to formulate them for the first
    time. The Jew has this gift. To them we
    owe the idea of equality before the law,
    both divine and human; of the sanctity of
    life and the dignity of the human person;
    of the individual conscience and so of
    personal redemption; of the collective
    conscience and so of social responsibility;
    of peace as an abstract ideal and love as
    the foundation of justice, and many other
    items which constitute the basic moral
    furniture of the human mind. Without
    the Jews, it might have been a much
    emptier place.”
    The Power to Love
    Just as this is true concerning our
    national identity, it is true concerning
    every individual person. At times you
    may think to yourself, “I am worthless; I
    amount to nothing.”
    Comes the Torah and says, that you on
    your own, cloistered in your vanity and
    egotism, detached from your true core of
    absolute dignity and majesty, may indeed
    amount to a small, futile creature,
    unworthy of counting (“If I am only for
    myself, what am I,” Hillel is quoted as
    saying in the Ethics of the Fathers).
    However, each of us, at our core, is a
    “spark of the Divine,” a “fragment” of
    His light, a free, wholsome, confident
    and happy spirit. As such you have the
    power to contribute something to the
    world, to reach out to an individual in
    need. Each of us has the ability to touch
    a heart, to lift a spirit, to kindle a soul, to
    look a fellow human being in the eyes
    and say “I Love you.”
    You may be small indeed, but the love
    and light you can bring to another life
    through a simple gesture, a sincere “good
    morning,” or an act of goodness and
    kindness, is immeasurable and cannot be
    And when you reach out to others, you
    will discover the depth of the love that
    G-d has for you. You are part of His
    light, thus you can share His light with
    so many others.