“Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one.” — Numbers 1:2
The Torah portion for this week is Bamidbar, which means “in the desert,” from Numbers 1:1–4:20, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 2:1–22.
When I was in rabbinical school, I had a friend who was the eighth of 16 children. Fifteen brothers and sisters! I couldn’t imagine what that must be like. I expected my friend to share tales of a sorry childhood – one filled with neglect. After all, how could any two parents possibly care and love 16 children at the same time? But my friend didn’t have any sad stories. In fact, he had an ideal childhood filed with love. He assured me that he and every one of his siblings felt almost like an only child. Each felt loved by the parents as if he or she were the only child they had.
Now that I am a parent and grandparent, I can understand how my friend’s parents could love so many children at the same time. Each of my children and grandchildren is special in their own unique way. When we get together as a family and even one member isn’t there, it doesn’t just feel like we are less in numbers – we are simply less. Because each and every family member adds so much – is so much. Each one matters, and nothing could ever change that. No matter how large my family grows, I will always love each child immensely.
In this week’s Torah portion, God counts the children of Israel. Of course, He already knew how many there were, but He wanted them to know that each one mattered and that each one counted. If someone was missing, God would notice and God would care.
It’s like that with us today as well. There are more than seven billion people in the world today. There are more than a billion people in China alone. With all the people sharing this planet with us, it’s easy to think that God doesn’t notice us. We could make the mistake thinking that we don’t matter much or that we aren’t loved very much.
But nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn’t matter if we are the only human being on Earth or if we are one in ten billion, or a billion billion – to God we are like an only child. He loves us and cares for us just as He would if we were the only one. Not a single one of us is dispensable and each of us is so very precious to God.
God sees us as invaluable; it’s time for us to see ourselves — and each other —that way also.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President