Bamidbar – Shavuos: Who Counts?

Parshas Bamidbar, erev Shavuos, Zman Matan Tora’sainu – the time of the giving of the Torah.  Our preparation for Matan Torah includes a forty-nine day count, which began on the second day of Pesach, and ends the night before Shavuos. 

As we journey through time, always counting our days, we must make sure that our days count. 

And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying… שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם–בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם, Take a count of the entire assembly of Israel, according to their families, according to their father’s household by the number of the names; every male according to their head count;

מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, כָּל-יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם, אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן – From twenty years old and upwards, all who are fit to go out to the army in Israel, you shall count them by their legions, you and Aharon (Bamidbar 1:1-3).

שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל – Take a count can also be translated as שְׂאוּ – lift up.  Lift up, elevate, inspire, empower, strengthen each and every Jew in the count.  Moshe, as you count each and every one, let each person know he has a task, a mission, an importance in this holy nation. 

Parshas Bamidbar, with its census of the Israelites, always precedes Shavuos.  While many reasons for this are given, perhaps we are to learn a fundamental truth.  As we stand poised to accept the Torah once again, Hashem wants us to each remembers that each person counts.

We count time, while Hashem counts His people. 

Bamidbar is also known as ספר הפקודים – the book of numbers, the book of counting.  While each person was counted, ספר הפקודים, each person is also taught that he has a unique תפקיד, mission, unique to him as a person and Jew. He is the מפקד, commander, over his destiny. 

Only when we count time, by recognizing that each person counts in the eyes of Hashem and contributes uniquely to the well-being and importance of the nation, can we successfully stand at Sinai and once again declare, “All that Hashem has spoken, we will do and we will listen!” (Shemos 24:7). 

מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, כָּל-יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם, אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן…From the age of twenty and up, all who go out to war in Israel, תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם: count them, help them realize their unique mission, and empower them to be the commander over their destiny. 

January 2009, Operation Cast Lead: IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip.  Lt. Aharon Karov was called up to active duty. 

Aharon and Tzivia were married on Thursday evening, January 8, 2009.  Friday, January 9 at dawn, about 4 hours after the wedding ended, Aharon was notified by the company commander, “Aharon, you’ve got to come.  We’re going in on Saturday night.”  After some deliberation, Aharon declared, “If we go in, I’ve got to be with my soldiers.” 

Erev Shabbat, Aharon set out, while his bride and family remained for the Shabat Sheva Brachot, “short one groom.  Doubtless, it was a strange situation.  The next morning in the Beit Knesset, everyone was whispering, ‘The groom left.’  Many questions arose… yet in a compulsory war, everyone goes forth to battle, ‘In a compulsory war, all go out to battle, even a groom from his wedding chamber’ (Sotah 8:6).

“Saturday night, Aharon sent a text to a friend in yeshiva: ‘We’re going in.  We’ve got to pray and strengthen the Jewish people.  The ground operation has begun.’”

Aharon’s father, R’ Zev Karov writes, “Trembling, I hear Gd’s voice calling to Avraham, the father of our people, ‘Take you son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love…and bring him as a burnt offering’ (Gen.22:2), and I shudder at Avraham’s silence and at the speed with which he moved on to implementation, ‘And Avraham arose early in the morning and set out for the place of which G-d had told him’ (ibid, v.3).”

Tuesday, January 13, 04:00 a.m.  “He climbed up to the second story, in the manner of fighters – with his head up and his rifle barrel ready for any terrorist he might face… Another four steps and an enormous explosion was heard… Aharon absorbed the charge with his head and his entire left side, and was mortally wounded.

“…One day, the hospital chaplain appeared and said that the R’ Chaim Kanievsky and his wife were waiting for us to come, and they wanted to give us a blessing.  He took Tzivia and myself in his car.  We arrived, and we found dozens of people congregating there, waiting at the front door.  On one side, women waited their turns to speak to the rabbi’s wife, and men waited on the other side, to receive some advice or a blessing from the rabbi.

“We arrived and we heard an announcement in a loud voice: ‘Everyone leave,’ and then in a whisper, ‘The father and bride of that officer have arrived.’  The rabbi received Tzivia and myself, asked questions and gave us a blessing.  Afterwards, we entered the Rebbetzin’s room.  She hugged Tzivia and blessed us that Aharon should recover and that they should have children.  She also gave Tzivia a sefer by the rav and wrote a dedication to Aharon.”

R’ Karov writes that “Several days later (after the injury), it would become clear to us that not just us, but the entire Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora had been praying with us, and still were.  About two months after the injury, we were at a wedding.  A woman in her forties approached us and told us excitedly: ‘May I tell you something?  At an evening sing-along of three hundred members of secular kibbutzim and moshavim, the singing was halted and they recited a chapter of Tehillim for Aharon Karov and all the other soldiers injured in Operation Cast Lead to get well.’  She added in a confident, determined voice: ‘We were three hundred secular Leftists praying.  For sure he got better through our merit.’  I thought to myself, ‘Only among the Jews could there be secularists who stop a sing-along and pray for a soldier they do not know, and they are certain that their prayers will be answered’” (Excerpts from Deep in the Heart: The Groom Who Went to War by R’ Zev Karov).

Shavuos: We count.  Bamidbar: G-d counts.  While we count our days and ensure that our days count, Hashem counts His people, reminding us that each and every one counts.

Let us ensure that we live up to the tremendous potential in each and every year, month, week, day, and infinitesimal moment of time, inspired, ennobled, and empowered by the gift of Torah bequeathed to us. 

בברכת שבת שלום וחג שמח!


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