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    Large numbers & small – B’midbar

    numberThe commencement of the Book of Numbers, B’midbar, raises many questions about Jewish population numbers.

    Until the establishment of Israel, Jews everywhere were a tiny minority. In Israel these days they are have the new experience of being a majority.

    Both aspects have their implications.

    As a minority, according to the legal scholar AL Goodhart, it is our small numbers that have allowed us to achieve so much.

    Goodhart sees three advantages in being a minority: you have a questioning spirit and do not accept things as they are, you show moral courage and stand up for your principles, you have an adventurous spirit and are willing to pioneer and persevere.

    All very well, but to Goodhart’s analysis a warning has to be added. To survive, and to achieve, a minority needs a high degree of loyalty and commitment from every member.

    The lesson for each of us is that we dare not abdicate and leave the future to the others. There are no others.

    As a majority in Israel, we have to acknowledge a new responsibility, to value and celebrate every minority group.

    We cannot tell anyone to be a leopard that changes its spots, not can we tell them they have no right to their own identity and culture. For centuries we were downtrodden as a minority; now we must not discriminate against other minorities.

    Internally, we dare not be lazy and say there are enough other Jews to keep Jewishness going. If everybody felt like that, there would be no Jewishness.

    It’s like the story from Chelm of the call on every family to contribute wine to a barrel which was to be given to the local duke.

    One person decided it was good enough for him to put water into the barrel instead of wine.

    A second had the same opinion, and so did everyone else, and the barrel of wine became a barrel of water.

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