Parashat B'midbar

Making Sense Of The Census

The prohibition against the direct counting of the Israelites cautions us to remember the human faces behind abstract statistics.

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A Word

Perhaps the reluctance to count Israelites, even when there is a good reason to do so, derives from the understanding that it is all too easy to make human beings into statistics. In recent history, the Nazis tried to dehumanize Jews by replacing their names with numbers. As Ramban points out, one of the features of the census in Parsha Bamidbar is that each person is counted, by name, before Moses and Aaron, and recognized as an individual. As we read about current events, how many million homeless, how many hundreds killed in drunk driving accidents, it is important for us to remember that each one of those numbers represents a human being.

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Rabbi Leslie Bergson

Rabbi Leslie Bergson is the Jewish chaplain and Hillel director of The Claremont Colleges in Claremont, California.