Bamidbar: Who Is Counted and Who Is Not?

The supreme importance that G-d places on the censuses of the population of the Children of Israel is clear: “He counts them constantly out of His love for them” (Rashi).

From the words of the rabbis, we learn a very stark lesson in the difference between Israel and the nations. We will bring one example of many in the Midrash: “This is comparable to a king who had many granaries, all of which were filthy and full of chaff, and he never bothered counting how many there were. He also had one particular granary which was kept clean and tidy. He told his son: Keep a careful reckoning of how much grain there is in this granary, how many sacks, how many scales for weighing the grain.” The lesson is clear: most of the kings granaries were dilapidated, full of rubbish and filth – therefore, he saw no importance in them. A king does not waste his time with trivia. But in the midst of all his neglected granaries, he found – at last! – one that was clean and well-cared for. Precisely there, he commanded a careful and precise count to be made of the stock.

And what is the moral? “G-d told Moshe, The nations are the trivia, as it is said, “and the nations shall be as the burnings of lime; thorns cut down that are set on fire” (Isaiah 33:12) – therefore, don’t bother counting them. But the Jews are righteous, as it is said, “And Your Nation shall all be righteous”; and similarly it is said, ” ‘You are beautiful my beloved, you have no flaws’ – therefore, a counting of Israel is scrupulously taken”

The prophets and the rabbis teach us that in God’s eyes, the nations are like thorns which have been uprooted; they have no great significance. This sort of thing does not have to be counted. Four billion, five billion, maybe six billion by now – so what?! How many Jews are there? – that is of paramount importance – important enough for God to want to know precisely

In this same spirit, the Ramhal (Moshe Chaiim Luzzatto) writes in Derech Hashem (The Way of God) that God watches over every single Jew individually, while he watches over the other nations collectively. The prophet Amos (3:2) alludes to this in his statement: “You (Israel) alone I have singled out of all the families of the earth”.

Many may say, “But this is unfair…” We quote here the explanation given by the author of Sefer HaChinuch in the introduction to his book. He explains that the very fact of there being one leading, important nation in the world, to which the other nations are subordinate, should come as no surprise. Indeed, the entire world is build thus. In every sphere imaginable, there is more refuse than substance. For instance, only a small minority of the world’s land is arable, the majority being wasteland. If we look around at our surroundings with a discerning eye, we would understand this well, and it would come as no surprise that in the creation of the human species as well, God created a minority portion of greater consequence, surrounded by an overwhelming majority portion of refuse. Thus the author of the Sefer HaChinuch explains: “Not for your large numbers did God want you and choose you, but rather because you were the few among the nations”. That is, the fact that we are small proves that we are chosen, for it is the way of world that the choice parts comprise a small portion of the whole.

At this point we must ask: If this is so natural and obvious, why is it so difficult for people to grasp this idea? The answer is tied to the era in which we live in today. The idea of democracy began to govern the world about two hundred years ago. Its basic axiom is that “everyone is equal”. True, this contradicts the natural way of the world, but most of mankind preferred adopting this system as a way to correct the cruelty and degradation that existed towards the lower economic and social classes. In this respect, democracy is fine. Though it may not jibe with the natural order of the world, it may be, post facto, a “tikun” for the nations of the world.

But none of this is appropriate for the Nation of God. Democracy is simply the best of the worst systems which have been devised. For the gentiles, whose importance is trivial, it may be proper. But for Am Yisrael?! After all, the concept of absolute equality which democracy is built upon contradicts the very essence of “choseness” and the differing levels in the creation. Though democracy was established as a “first aid” to cure the world of its ills, all this is irrelevant to us. The real sickness is that this foreign concept has been embedded firmly into our psyches, causing us to worship at its altar. Let us free ourselves of these goyish concepts, and embrace the Godly idea of Israel as the Divine selection – “the few among the nations”.

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