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ב"ה

You Count

Friday, 22 May, 2020 - 5:05 am

 Last Wednesday the Jews of Switzerland received a pleasant surprise. The Federal Government of Switzerland (known as the Bundesrat) announced that starting from next Friday the synagogues will be open again. In other words, this coming Shavuot we will be able to return to the synagogues.

It is important to note that for more than two hundred years there have been open and active synagogues in Basel. Even during the Holocaust synagogues did not close. And now they have been inactive for over ten weeks, including Pesach. So these are definitely important and good tidings.

Besides the limitations connected with hygiene, social distancing and the prohibition of group singing, we were asked to check how many people can fit into every open space, and every worshipper will have to register ahead of time and let us know that he is coming. We have to count all those who come to daven, and authorize them one by one.

There is something special about counting. The very counting of a specific item means that we are giving it a place and meaning, certainly when we are counting human beings. Without him we would be five, and with him we are six. Moreover, often we categorize people according to their wisdom, wealth, beauty, dress, good-heartedness etc. In every society there are people who supposedly are not important, and are therefore not counted. In Israel, when a person wants to say that he is not considered significant, he will say “they don’t count me.” When we want just the number, it makes no difference at all if the person is wise, or wealthy or respectable; when it comes to the numbers he is counted as one, just like everyone else.

For instance, with Shavuot approaching, the shuls of Switzerland will count the number of people attending services without any reference to the person’s essence, beyond his being a Jew above the age of 13.

This is not the first time we are dealing with the counting of Jews before Shavuot, the holiday of the Giving of the Torah.

Parashat Bamidbar, which we will read on Shabbat, deals with the counting of Bnei Yisrael, and every year it is read before Shavuot, to tell us precisely that: that the Torah belongs to everyone equally. When we come to receive the Torah we do not examine people according to their virtues or faults; the important point is their very existence.

The same way that in order to say kaddish we need ten Jews, and it doesn’t matter if they are called Moshe Rabbeinu, Mordechai Hayehudi or Zalmen Wishedski, so too with everything connected to the Torah’s belonging to Jews: there are no differences between us.

“Due to His love for them, He counts them,” says the first Rashi in parashat Bamidbar, when he approaches the issue of the counting of Bnei Yisrael. How does counting express love? Simply, that counting tells the person being counted: You are important to me because of your very existence, regardless of your wisdom or achievements. This is an honest, clean, pure and real love.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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