May 23, 2014
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ
Shabbat Shalom. As you have heard very humorously in our drash tonight, in most ways Bamidbar is a stupendously dull portion, one of the least superficially interesting Torah portions of the entire year. After all, it's nothing more than a series of lists, a counting, a census of people. How many were in the tribe of Reuben, head by head, one by one, age twenty and over, all who are able to go out to war? 46,500. How many were in the tribe of Shimon, head by head, one by one, age twenty and over, all who are able to go out to war? 59,300. How many in the tribe of Gad, Judah, Issachar, Zevulun, Ephraim, Menasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, head by head, one by one, age twenty and over, all who are able to go out to war, on and on, thousands upon thousands, all counted one at a time? Numbers and numbers and numbers, added together, a Torah portion only an accountant could love.
On closer examination, it looks—well, even less intriguing. More details about the arrangement of the camp. More minutiae relating to the census. Nothing with the vaguest whiff of interest or challenge or meaning.
In fact, when you come right down to it, it looks a whole lot like the regulations for the establishment of a census. Count each and every person carefully, total them up, move on to the next area or region. Each and every single individual is tallied. A good process for the statisticians, but what can it possibly mean to us? Does the annual reading of Bamidbar explain why there are so many Jewish CPA's?
Read more: Bamidbar 5774: Jewish Accounting for God