This week, the Supreme Court is poised to make an important decision regarding the 2020 census, which makes this week’s Torah portion extremely pertinent. The portion of the Torah we read this week happens to begin with a census. This census, however, is a bit puzzling, as it is the fourth census to take place in just over a year.
The Israelites are counted when they go forth from the land of Egypt. They are counted again after the sin of the Golden Calf. They are counted, again, in order to protect them from the spread of a plague. And now, as Israelites are about to receive God’s revelation at Sinai, Moses is commanded – yet again – to count the Israelites.
Torah scholars throughout history have called attention to the frequency of census taking throughout the Torah. “Why?” the sages ask, “Does God command Moses to count the people so many times?”
Many of the early Sages suggest that God’s frequent counting serves to demonstrate God’s love for the people of Israel. From a psychological perspective, counting with a gesture of love might be considered very comforting. It is only human to desire a sense of belonging, and each of us like to know that we are more than just a number.
As the Supreme Court deliberates on the issues at hand, this lesson from our tradition can go a long way. Our national desire to get an accurate head count is extremely important, but it also important that the act of counting itself is designed in a way that every individual feels that he/she does, indeed, count.