The Importance of Counting

Yael Eckstein  |  June 1, 2022

Yael smiling and hugging another woman.

Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. — Numbers 1:2

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Bamidbar, which means “in the desert,” from Numbers 1:1–4:20.

Have you ever noticed that children love to count things? When my children were younger, I’d often see one of them sitting on the floor of their room, meticulously counting their toys, candies, or some other collection.

I was thinking about this the other day because we are now nearing the end of the seven-week period on the Jewish calendar called the Omer. During the Omer, we count 49 days from the beginning of Passover to the festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks.

Each evening, we say “Today is the 45th (for example) day of the Omer.” By counting this way, we show our anticipation of Shavuot, which celebrates the covenant given at Mount Sinai when God spoke the Ten Commandments to the entire nation.

By counting things, days to the festival, or toys, we show that they matter to us, that we care about them and they are important.

The Importance of Counting

We see the importance of counting as reflected in this week’s Torah portion, which opens with a census of the children of Israel: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one.”

Why was it important to know the exact number of the people of Israel at this point in the story? And why did God count them multiple times? And if they were counted, why did their names need to be mentioned as well?

One beautiful answer that the sages teach about the importance of counting is that God loves the children of Israel. That’s why He keeps counting them. Without a count, all we have is an estimate. That would mean that if one person was subtracted from the nation, it wouldn’t be noted. By counting the people, like a child counting candies or toys, each individual has importance.

This is what is meant in Psalms, when we read, “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147:4).

The importance of counting gives whatever is counted significance. It gives them a “name.” God loves us… that is why He counts us.

Your Turn:

Remember that God loves you. He knows your name. He counts you because you count.

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