“Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” — Hosea 1:10 [Note: In Hebrew texts, Hosea 1:10 is numbered as 2:1]
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.
In this week’s Haftorah we read about the nation of Israel’s future in the book of Hosea. There are some dire predictions as well as some uplifting and hopeful predictions for Israel’s destiny. Among the positive prophecies we read, “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted . . .” While this seems like a straightforward blessing for fruitfulness and success, the Talmud, Judaism’s Oral Tradition, sees in this verse a blatant contradiction.
Perhaps the Jewish sages saw this inconsistency because they were reading it in Hebrew where the contradiction is more apparent. The verse literally reads: “And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea . . .” First, the verse is telling us that there is a precise number for the Israelites. It may be hard to count, but there is a finite number. However the verse continues “which cannot be measured or numbered.”
Which is it? Will the Israelites be numbered or immeasurable?
The sages explain that both will be true, but at different times. The sages explain that the ability to measure the people of Israel is not related to their quantity, but to their quality.
When the children of Israel were disobedient and strayed from God, they would be measurable. They would be like the “sand on the seashore,” nothing of particular value, just one of many other little specks on the ground. But, when the children of Israel were obedient and faithful, their value would be immeasurable — limitless, priceless, and beyond measure to the living God. The verse continues: “ . . . In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” As the “children of the living God” who could measure their value?
Friends, we need to realize that when we are faithful to God, we also become immeasurably valuable, and that knowledge has to permeate our thoughts and actions all through the day.
My children had a very clever elementary school teacher who used to make the students begin each day by saying this same phrase: “No matter what you say or do to me today, I am still a worthwhile person.” Saying that phrase helped the kids stay calm when someone teased them. It helped them do what was right, even if they were mocked. Knowing that we have intrinsic worth empowers us to do what we need to do and overcome all adversity.
Let’s start this day and every day remembering that we are more than worthwhile. We are priceless, immeasurably valuable, children of the living God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President