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Quantity or Quality?

Friday, 23 May, 2014 - 1:00 pm

When it comes to voting it’s quantity that counts. One person, one vote. The more votes, the better.

When it comes to music, most people prefer a great song over lots of lousy tunes.

If it is gold one is collecting, she will likely want greater quantity. But that’s really because the quality of gold in our world is such that it is worth more than many other materials.  If I was collecting something of inferior quality – say germs – I would run from it as one flees the plague.

But is there ever an intrinsic value in quantity itself?


In this week’s parsha Bamidbar G-d instructs Moshe to count the Jewish people.

But this seems questionable.  Isn’t every life priceless? If human life has infinite value, what benefit is there if infinity is multiplied by 600,000 or some other number?

Some want to push even further: we Jews are very sensitive to counting people. After all, many of our relatives perished less than a century ago with numbers branded on their arms, reduced to mere statistics by their tormentors.


I am blessed to spend this weekend with my family celebrating my mother’s sixtieth birthday.  All 12 of her children came from the world over to join together. It is an amazing, joyous time together.  One element that makes it so special is that all of my mother’s children are present.  If one would be missing it would be somewhat different. The fact that we are all together increases the excitement, jubilation and nachas for my mother.

It’s not the magic number 12 that makes it special. It’s that all of her children joined to celebrate and honor their mother, whether she would have 12 or 2 or 14(!).  A lacking unit lessens the quality of those present.

There is a fundamental difference between counting to limit the value of an item or to demonstrate its value versus counting to reach a specific sum. When the goal is a specific sum it changes the value of the individuals – because they are no longer simply individuals! They are now part of a new unit, a whole.

How much more so when the counting is for a divine purpose.  When Jews are counted – for a minyan, for example – they emerge as a new entity, with Shechinah present. That’s why it was necessary to count the Jews prior to receiving the Torah.  By arriving at the sum of the Jewish people, a holy nation emerged.  Prior to counting, the Jews were simply human individuals. Subsequent to their accounting, they became a G-dly people, with the Almighty’s presence infusing their beings.


All Jews may be different, but if just one Jew is missing – it’s not a lack of one but a lack of all.

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