attention to details as love

My Berlin side of the family should have loved the Torah portion opening the Book of Bamidbar, or Numbers. To the “un-yeke” eye, this might look as a boring section, but there is much more. On the surface, nothing happens. We’re presented with a tedious count of how many men over 20 years of age are in each tribe (except for Levi), and a descriptive map of the camp set-up, in a most orderly manner.
The details are almost painful. Why can’t the Torah just give us a rough estimate? Does it matter if there were forty five thousand, six hundred and fifty men in the Tribe of Gad and seventy four thousand and six hundred to the Tribe of Judah? What if we just say, there were a lot of people, about six hundred thousand in total?
The Midrash understand that “because of His love to them, (He) counts them every hour”…
G-d here seems like a giant mother goose, constantly counting the eggs in her nest, making sure no one is missing. Elsewhere, it is noted that Shechina, the Divine Presence resides only through positive, loving feelings, which has to do with attention to details. This idea might be strange to us because we live in an excitements-chasing-society, bombarded by ads and other marketing messages that promise us happiness if we just take the “trip of our life”, the “vacation of our dreams”, the “once in a life-time” opportunity, entices us the lottery and on and on… When confronted with the detail oriented Judasim, we want to shrug it off: ‘who cares which blessing I said, big deal!’ but let’s examine this idea for a moment. No one ever says: “I have some kids and a wife or two”, “my flight leaves in the spring”, “I live on some street and some numbers”, “yes, I connected my computer wires; who cares which went where” “I sent you the email. Who cares if there was a “@” in the address?? We don’t slide the hand on the wall; we make sure we touch the light switch and in the exact place and motion. Shortly, in things we care about, we pay close attention to every minute detail, and vice versa.
Judaism is big on details: how to tie shoes; which blessing to say upon leaving the bathroom; why the blessing for an apple is different from that of ice cream, and the one over a beautiful sunset is different from that over pretty trees. Life is made of a collection of small details, not giant occurrences. The Giving of the Torah was amazing, but it happened 3500 years ago. Shabbat, on the other hand, was just here last week, and will come again tomorrow. What makes us who we are is not a “wow” thousands of years ago but the details of what we do today.

Six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty is the final count. That is a huge group!! If (on average) each man was married with one child (again, on average), that would mean close to 2 million people!! How did such a group travel? This Torah portion gives a careful description of the camp, which tribe was next to which one; which one in the east, west etc. Symbolically, it teaches us about the order in creation, and how for each and every one of us there is a place within that order, just like in the journey through the desert. But what’s so nice about this lesson here is that we’re mobile! See, we might think that “order” means being stationary, like when we’re done cleaning the house. As long as no one moves any dishes, tracks in any dust, we’re good!! But no. The Torah teaches us that no matter where, not only each one of us matters, but each of us has a role within the whole, sort of like a 1000 piece puzzle, where we can’t exchange two pieces randomly. Rather, each has its unique spot, its unique presence and role. Isn’t it amazing how through counting and mapping we can express love?



This entry was posted in life and some, shabbat shalom, Uncategorized, פרשת השבוע לחילוני האדוק. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to attention to details as love

  1. Rich Janis says:

    OK, each one of us matters, so we count each one, numerically. But for a minyan, we’re not supposed to do a numeric count? So, which is it? Or, either way, are we just fooling ourselves? Or, as you would say, is it “yes”?

    • yes, no and maybe…
      seriously, there are lots of issues in which we must hold (at least) two conflicting ideas simultaneously, where neither idea by itself works. I address some of it in an earlier piece: there is more to say about it; it’s on some back burner.
      specifically re counting:
      not each one was counted numerically as in “line up” and “1,2,3,4”… but rather, each person came to get a blessing from moses & aaron and gave a half shekel coin, to convey the idea that that each is whole (one coin per person and not 2 quarters) and at the same time, each is only one half. yes, for minyan we count with a verse of 10 words. there are other modern issues around conducting and responding to government surveys, and of course, some accept the ways around it – and some don’t.

  2. neskama says:

    Wonderfully fabulous….so, a personal question. Do you ‘work’? Are you a teacher at a school? Do you teach Judaic studies somewhere? Where did you study? How did you catch on ‘fire?”
    Shabbat shalom.

    You know you’re a redneck if your home has wheels and your car doesnt….Jeff FoxworthyLife is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself…anon
    neska נסקה

    Date: Fri, 23 May 2014 07:03:09 +0000

  3. Haim Z says:

    The Ramban says that to be counted, each one had to present himself before Moshe and Aharon, who looked on each one with an “ayin tova”, which was a source of bracha.

    • there is also the half shekel and each one symbolically being a “whole” half – an perhaps being counted when one brings something; when one gives -?
      I wrote this very late at night, and was just fascinated with the idea that counting is a form of care & love. thank you for your comment and thanks for reading. best to you and family.

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