Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Shira Forester. Shira is looking forward to returning this kayitz (summer) as Rosh Eidat ha’Sollelim. Originally from Deerfield, IL, she spent the last year living in Minneapolis, MN, taking a break from her new hometown of Madison, WI. Shira is pursuing a Master’s in Jewish Education at the Davidson School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She graduated in 2019 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Rehabilitation Psychology and a Certificate in Jewish Studies.
Everyone Counts: Reflections on Parashat Bamidbar
by Shira Forester
A madrich/a (counselor) stands in front of their chanichim/ot (campers) as they prepare for their next peulah (activity). The madrich/a looks focused. Their eyes are squinting and their pointer finger is extended, bobbing a bit as it aims at various chanichim/ot around the room. Under their breath, you can hear a faint “one, two, three…” After a few moments, the madrich/a motions a thumbs up to their co-madrichim/ot and to their Rosh Eidah (unit head). Everyone is present. Everyone has been counted.
We do a lot of counting at Camp Ramah. We count each chanich/a before every peulah begins. Every kayitz (summer) we count how many Shabbatot and Yamim Meyuchadim (special days) we will share together. We count how many times each machazemer (musical) has been performed, with Jacob noting the precise number when he introduces each machazemer with the words:
“…לפעם ה____ בהיסטוריה של המחנה” or “for the ___ time in the camp’s history…”
This kayitz we will rely on even more counting. We will count the number of days in our podding period, the number of Covid-19 tests, and the number of feet between members of different pods sitting near each other on the kikar.
Like the tzevet (staff) and chanichim/ot at Machane Ramah, the Israelites also did lots of counting on their travels through the wilderness. This week we read the first parashah from the book of Numbers, which, perhaps not surprisingly given its name, relates to counting. The book of Numbers opens with yet another census of the Israelites, the third within one year. That sure is a lot of counting!
When God instructs the Israelites to begin this census, God uses some unusual language to describe the act of counting. Rather than use some standard Biblical verbs for counting, such as לספור or למנות or לפקוד, God uses a roundabout expression to describe counting. God commands Moses to “שְׂאוּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ“ or “lift the head” of each Israelite (Numbers 1:2). Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z”l) explains that God uses this odd language in order to emphasize the importance of the individual within a large group. Censuses too often value a mass or multitude, rather than individuals. When we “lift the head” of each person in a crowd, we celebrate each person’s individuality, rather than just look at them as another number that can be replaced.
At camp, we count because we know that each and every chanich/a adds something special to the crowd. We never glance at a large group of chanichim/ot and take that as a sign that we can begin our peulah. We always take the time to count, to lift each head. We celebrate each individual, each day, each peulah, and each machazemer in helping create the magic of camp. When we count, we show that everyone and everything counts.