Have Questions or Comments?
Leave us some feedback and we'll reply back!

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)

    Phone Number)

    In Reference to

    Your Message


    In Rabbinic
    literature, the book
    of Bamidbar is
    referred to as the
    book of censuses
    (Sefer haPekudim),
    which is no doubt roughly equivalent to
    the common English name for the book
    – the Book of Numbers. In this
    week’s parsha, there is a counting at the
    beginning of their sojourn in the
    Wilderness and there is another counting
    in Parshas Pinchas, towards the end of
    their sojourn in the Wilderness.
    The command to count the people is
    formulated as follows: “Take a census of
    the entire assembly of the Children of
    Israel according to their families,
    according to their fathers’ house, BY
    male according to their head
    count.” [Bamidbar 1:2]. The expression
    “b’mispar sheimos” [by number of the
    names] is somewhat peculiar. What does
    it really mean? Beyond that, it seems like
    it is an oxymoron. The term “number”

    and “names” are almost mutually
    exclusive. When we talk about numbers
    we imply anonymity. (We hear all the
    time: “I don’t really count for anything I
    am just a number!”) The word “names”
    has the exact opposite connotation. A
    name gives a person singularity and a
    quality of being special – more than just
    a number!
    Here we are told to count the Jewish
    people “by the number of their names”.
    Which is it – was the census concerned
    with the overall numbers (the “klal”) or
    was the census interested in the
    individual names (the “p’rat”)?
    Rav Mordechai Gifter, of blessed
    memory, writes that numbers by their
    very definition are finite. Stating a
    number, one quantifies an item such that
    the quantity is no more and no less than
    the number stated. A human being, by
    his very definition, is not finite in this
    sense. He has a soul and strengths, and
    characteristics. He has unlimited
    potential to grow and expand his

    capabilities. Trying to put a number on
    an individual limits him and restricts his
    ability to reach untold heights. Therefore,
    when we speak of a “minyan” we are not
    speaking of a “mispar” [a number]. We
    cannot just “count” Jews. When we
    enumerate people and treat them as
    numbers we in effect say they are defined
    and limited. This is certainly not the way
    the Almighty wants us to view the Jewish
    How does one get around this problem?
    If it is so detrimental to put a number on
    the individuals within Klal Yisrael, how
    can one take a census of the Jewish
    people? For this reason, Rav Gifter
    writes, the Jewish census never involved
    “the counting of noses”. Intermediate
    items (such as half-shekel coins, as
    specified in Parshas Ki Tisa) were always
    utilized to avoid the problem of counting
    the people by number. The message is
    the same – the Jewish people are not
    finite (‘mugbal’). We may be finite in
    terms of our bodies, but in terms of our
    souls we are infinite.

    In fact, when Dovid HaMelech [King
    David] decided to count Klal Yisrael,
    and he counted them directly (as is
    recorded at the end of the book of
    Shmuel), a terrible plague resulted. The
    lesson of that – says Rav Gifter – is that
    when people are viewed as finite rather
    than as individuals with unlimited
    potential, the result is destruction. The
    indirect method of taking a Jewish
    census, on the other hand, is symbolic of
    the infinite measure and infinite potential
    of each person counted within that