Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 12

May 22, 2020

A Public Service Announcement

Dear Holy Friends,

We hope and pray that this correspondence finds you in good health and managing our difficult circumstances. I want to remind you to feel free to call me or email me at any time ( 201562527, elw613@gmail.com) and to share your experiences, theological questions and even, to ask, how we, as your community, can support you! If you know anyone experiencing health issues, please allow us to pray for them. If you know someone who needs our support, please contact me or the dedicated officers of our shul.

This Shabbat, we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah, called B'midbar (In the Desert). The book is also called Sefer HaPekudim (The Book of the Countings, giving rise to the English name for the book - Numbers). Twice in the book of B'midbar God commands Moses to take a census — in this week's Torah portion, and in Parshat Pinchas. In both places, God uses a peculiar expression — he commands Moses to "lift up the heads of the assembly." What does it mean to "lift up the heads"? Why doesn't God just tell Moses to count the people? And what is the reason for the census? If God is omnipotent and all knowing, He should be able to count the Jews on His own.

A close inspection of the words of the command can answer these questions. The sages point out two places that the expression "lift up the head" is used, with positive and negative ramifications. When Joseph was in prison in Egypt and interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's servants, he said to the Butler, God will "lift up your head." Here he was speaking in an allegorical sense, saying that Pharaoh will reinstate you to your previous position (Genesis 40:13). Joseph used the words again when speaking to the Baker, but told him that God will "lift up your head" in a literal sense, and behead you (Genesis 40:19).

Which of these interpretations should we use in our Torah portion? Is God sending us a positive or a negative message by telling Moses to lift up our heads?

The Ramban sheds some light on this disparity. He points out that the word for "count," pakod, also means "to remember" and "be concerned with." Rashi also remarks on this idea and says, "Because of God's great love for His people, He counts them all the time." The census in the desert was received with enthusiasm and excitement because each person knew that he was being counted as a beloved member of the society. By telling Moses to count the Jews, God is showing that He is concerned about us and that we do indeed "count."

So, with those words of Torah in mind and without getting into politics; let’s assume the government is concerned with us and regards us a beloved memory of society; so just like Moshe did for the Jews, join him 3200 years later and don’t forget to fill out Census2020!

Blessings always,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser

Tel: 201-562-5277

Please join us this Friday night at 7:00pm for our Kabbalat Shabbat service!

Please make sure to check out our online schedule of services posted here. All the zoom information is provided and hope to “see” you soon.