HaMirpeset Shelanu 186: From Jonah Harris

This week, we begin the book of Bamidbar with Parashat Bamidbar. This book and parasha is called “Numbers” in English, as the whole portion is a census of the people of Israel. The Torah details the number of people in each tribe, and then explains where the tribes should stand in reference to the ohel mo’ed, or the tabernacle. It also goes on to recount the lineage of a few important figures.

The Torah spends 1,823 words talking about numbers in this parasha, which constitutes about 2.3% of all words in the Torah. Numbers such as these are telling, as they give concrete context to abstract ideas. When the people of Israel are counted, it gives the reader an idea of the size of the people and their breakdown, which can help the understanding of the group dynamic in other parts of the story. In modern times, these 603,550 people of Israel can form 60,355 minyanim, can fill the capacity of Wrigley Field over 14 times, and if they lived with the same population density as Chicago, they would spread across 51 square miles of land. For a math-minded individual, this Torah portion is quite interesting. However, it is easy to get lost in the numbers and forget that this parasha still teaches us valuable lessons.

The fact that the Torah spends this long counting the Israelites shows us that every member of Israel makes a difference, and each added number represents another valued life. Throughout much of the Torah, the story focuses on the actions of a few key figures, and Bamidbar is a chance to zoom out and remind us of the importance of every member of the community. We as the Jewish people still refer to ourselves as Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel, and we encourage community-driven actions such as requiring ten people to say certain prayers.

At camp, we stress the idea of aidah unity every summer. It can be easy for kids to split off into cliques, but for the aidah to act as a community, everyone must be counted. Every camper is an invaluable member of the group, and as counselors, one of our main jobs is to encourage campers to rise to their full potential— to leave their comfort zone, to take risks, develop new friendships, and see themselves as part of a strong, supportive community. At camp everyone has value and adds something special to their cabin, aidah, and ultimately the entire camp community. Camp is made up of unique individuals who come from different backgrounds with a variety of skills, interests and talents, all of which are encouraged. As both campers and staff prepare for the summer, we all look forward to being a counted and valued member of our community
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