Making Our Communities Inclusive

Everyone counts in a Jewish community.

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Who Really Counts?

In B'midbar, one could argue that the number of troops is what really counts, since they are the ones included in the census. But when we read between the lines, when we ask who is not included, we can see how the untold stories of the unmentioned people matter too. For instance, what about the woman who might have wished to fight? Or how about the 19-year-old man, just months short of his 20th birthday, eager to serve God and his people? And how about the 23-year-old male Israelite who can count the right number of years but not the right number of limbs since one of his was lost in a childhood accident? And the pregnant soldier's wife who calculates the number of weeks until her baby arrives, knowing that the baby's father's days may be numbered?

There may be contextually legitimate reasons why these people are omitted from the census, and, ultimately, from the Torah text, but their exclusion means we miss the opportunity to see what they can offer the community.

We all hear stories about those who lose one thing and gain something even greater through their loss. There is an urban legend about violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, who taught that lesson by happenstance when he played a concerto at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City with a broken string. One might think it impossible to play with just three strings a concerto written for violin, but Perlman did it and did so with great fervor. Upon completing his dazzling performance, he (so the story goes) said humbly to the audience, "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left." Perhaps this is true for all of us, not only artists. Losses can lead to inner strengths and life changes that we did not dream were possible. We are more than the sum total of our parts.

The Israelites may have needed parameters for whom to include and whom to exclude from the census described in B'midbar, but we must remember why even those not tallied do, in fact, matter. Today we may count every individual in our community, but may still discount how much they have to offer. The missing members in this parashah can teach us to reconsider what it means to count. As the numerous stories in the Bible and in our lives remind us, even those not included are important, and all those we now seek to include genuinely are individuals with much to gain from and offer to our communities.

The product of fourteen years of work and the contributions of more than 100 scholars, theologians, poets, and rabbis—all of them women—The Torah: A Women’s Commentary is a landmark achievement in biblical scholarship and an essential resource for the study of the Bible. For more information or to order a copy, visit URJBooksandMusic.com.

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Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker has served as Cantor at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul Minnesota since 1997, followering her position as Assistant Cantor at COngregation Rodeph Sholom in New York CIty.