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    Why were the people counted? – B’midbar

    In English the name of the Book we begin this week is Numbers.

    Rav JB Soloveitchik of blessed memory said there are two purposes in counting.

    One purpose is to know how much one has of a certain item, money for example. In our case Moses counted the people so as to know how many they were.

    The second purpose is in order to appreciate and savour each item – in our case each person – regardless of the overall total.

    There were hundreds of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness, so what chance did Moses have of knowing and appreciating every individual? That the Almighty knew each individual is evident, but how what chance did Moses have?

    The answer is that the people were divided into groups, and each group had its leader. The chief leader, Moses, did not need to know every Israelite, but the sub-leaders did.

    The idea is spelt out in the Talmud, in B’rachot 28a, where Rabban Gamli’el was shocked to see the unpleasant conditions in which Rabbi Yehoshua lived. Rabban Gamli’el should have been aware of the circumstances of each of his people.

    Each individual should have mattered to the leader.

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