Friday, June 3, 2011

Parashat Naso: How Important are Numbers?

It's a legitimate question -- how much do numbers matter? It is a question that we are concerned with as a Jewish people constantly. How many of us are there, how many of us are left, how many will there be? It is also an issue we are concerned with locally. We feel happy when we make minyan and when our chanukkah party fills our social hall. When there are only 2 or 3 of us praying together on a Saturday morning, we are often crestfallen, wishing that the presence of others would have enriched our learning and worship. The issue of numbers is central in this week's portion, Parashat Naso. Our portion begins with these words:

21. The Lord spoke to Moses saying:

כא. וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:

22. Take a census of the sons of Gershon, of them too, following their fathers' houses, according
to their families.

כב. נָשֹׂא אֶת רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי גֵרְשׁוֹן גַּם הֵם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם:

There is a famous questions about the significance of the census. If God is all-knowing, then why are we commanded to count? Some commentators say that the counting is for us, not for God. When we see how numerous our numbers are, it gives us the confidence to face our personal and communal challenges.

In a community as small as ours, counting often does not inspire confidence. However, I think we need to count differently: taking account of our talents, commitments, and passions for the success of our congregation. The rabbis teach that whenever two people come together in order to study Torah, the Shechinah , the feminine element of God, dwells between them. All it takes is two committed to the project in order to invite the Divine into our lives.

Numbers do matter. Your attendance does make a difference, and everyone needs to make an effort to come to our services and events in order to strengthen the community and attract new members. However, at those moments when we are just a few, we should take stock of the richness we all bring to this community in a multiplicity of ways.

I'm looking forward to being counted among this holy community soon!!

Shabbat Shalom.