In this week's Torah portion a census of the Jewish people was taken. As it is stated, "Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families. . .every male according to their head count" (Numbers 1:2).
In this week's Torah portion a census of the Jewish people was taken. As it is stated, "Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families. . .every male according to their head count" (Numbers 1:2). The Ramban, one of the leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, teaches that the counting of the Jewish people was not merely a census just to know the total number of people, but it was to recognize the potential of each individual.
Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, a recent Torah thinker in Israel, explains that when Moses counted the Children of Israel he revealed to each and every one of them their mission in life. As individuals, each person was informed of the specific purpose for what his soul was sent to this world to accomplish. Each person was also told what he must do in his lifetime to accomplish that purpose. However, that is not all. At that moment, each person received from Hashem through Moses' blessing, the abilities and talents to enable him to execute and fulfill his designated life's mission. In other terms, the counting of the Jewish people was not just an observation of an existing entity, but it was an act of creation which formed a whole new entity.
From here, we can derive a very fundamental lesson in serving Hashem. Rabbi Yaacov Schatz, a great contemporary Torah personality in Israel, teaches that the strong will and desire of a person to do Hashem's will with total dedication gives birth to the means and possibility for a person to fulfill that desire. Not only was each individual member of the Jewish people shown his personal mission in life in serving Hashem, but by accepting that mission upon himself, he was also given the abilities to fulfill it.
Here are some other examples of this same concept. The Children of Israel were originally slaves to Pharaoh. They were not skilled craftsmen. This begs the question: Where did they acquire the skills and know-how to build the most beautiful, sophisticated, and intricately designed Tabernacle? The Talmud states that there were women who wove tapestries from wool while it was still attached to the lambs' backs! Where did they learn to do such intricate skills? The answer is that they did not formally learn them. However, since they were dedicated with all of their heart and soul to serving Hashem and building the Tabernacle, they were Divinely given all of the abilities to accomplish it. As the verse in Exodus states, ". . .from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion" (25:2). They were literally lifted to greatness.
We find another example of this concept in the story of Ruth, which we will read next week on the festival of Shavuot. The verse states, "Boaz took Ruth, and she became to him a woman" (Ruth 4:13). The Midrash explains that Ruth did not have a womb until she married Boaz. The verse implies that when Boaz took Ruth, that is when she became a woman. The pure, self-sacrificing desire of Ruth to perform the mitzvah of yibum (the levirate marriage) actually created the ability within her to have children. Not just ordinary children, but even descendents like King David and a lineage that will eventually produce the Mashiach (Messiah).
On the other side of the spectrum, if a person is not devoted 100% and does not utilize the tools he was given to serve Hashem, then his abilities are diminished, little by little, until he can no longer properly fulfill his mission.
The Ramban continues this thought by further explaining the verse "lift the heads of Israel." The word "lift" can be understood to mean lift up to a high position or it could mean to lift off, as in a king telling his executioner to "lift off someone's head." The Midrash continues to explain that we find this when Joseph spoke to the two servants of Pharaoh in jail with him. To the wine steward, Joseph says that Pharaoh will lift up your head and you will be reinstated to your high position (Genesis 40:13). However, to the baker, Joseph says that Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree (ibid. 40:18).
So we see that the word "lift" has a double understanding. What is the meaning of this? The answer is that the more important and uplifting the mission, the greater responsibility one has. When one has this increased responsibility, all the more so can he be punished for not fulfilling his mission.
In the case of Pharaoh's two servants, the baker provided bread to Pharaoh, which is the main source of substance. Wine, on the other hand, is a luxury. Thus, the baker's mission carried with it more responsibility. Also, the negligence of the baker was much greater. A stone was found in the loaf of bread, which is much easier to prevent than a fly falling into wine. So the baker had his head lifted off and the wine steward, who more or less fulfilled his mission, was lifted up.
As we approach the festival of Shavuot, we should all strive to determine our special mission in life and be lifted up with inspiration to fulfill it.
Jonathan Sigal, son of Bob and Nancy Sigal, is an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta. He is currently studying in the Kollel of Amsterdam, Holland.
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