EVERY JEW COUNTS
In this week's Torah portion, Hashem commands Moses to take a census of the Children of Israel in the desert. Rabbi Avraham Dov Kahn, the director of a Jewish outreach organization in New York, points out something that should strike every American as being a bit strange about this commandment.
In this week's Torah portion, Hashem commands Moses to take a census of the Children of Israel in the desert. Rabbi Avraham Dov Kahn, the director of a Jewish outreach organization in New York, points out something that should strike every American as being a bit strange about this commandment. In the United States, when a census is taken every ten years, the people who go from door to door collecting the information are usually average people of mediocre to low education who cannot get any better work than this. But here, we have Moses himself as the information collector! The leader of the Jewish people, the prophet of prophets, and the one who brought us Hashem's Torah! Why does Hashem employ him to take the census?
Rabbi Kahn explains that Moses' taking the census demonstrates the importance of every Jew. Jews aren't meant to be counted by some average person. When a census takes place in America, people are reduced to mere numbers, but amongst the Jewish people every Jew is important and is worthy of being counted by the great leader of our people. For this reason, Hashem had His number-one man do the census.
Later in the Torah portion, Hashem reiterates a mitzvah that is repeated many times throughout the Torah - the mitzvah of Shabbat. The Torah says, "The Children of Israel shall observe the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever that in a six-day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed" (31:16-17). By keeping Shabbat, we are demonstrating our belief in G-d, that He created the world and continues to maintain it. Just like Hashem rested on the seventh day of creation, we rest every seventh day to give heed to the fact that He created this world. As such, it is one of the most fundamental mitzvot of the Torah.
When the two aforementioned ideas are juxtaposed, we see that not only is it important for the Jewish people as a whole to observe Shabbat, but also for every individual Jew to participate in its observance. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the beauty and significance of this special day. When one encounters such a Jew, it is important to be able to express to them the significance of the day in a way by which they can relate to it. By focusing on the lesson we learned from Moses taking the census, we'll remember that every Jew is important. This perspective is demonstrated beautifully in the following story told by the noted lecturer and author, Rabbi Paysach Krohn:
In Jerusalem many years ago, some Jewish stores in a particular area were kept open on Shabbat. Rabbis and lay leaders tried to convince the proprietors to close their stores before sunset Friday afternoon. Eventually they were successful with all the storekeepers except one, but no amount of pleading or pressure could get this particular Jewish grocer to close his store. Business was good, and from his perspective, profits outweighed any regard he may have for Shabbat observance.
Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the renowned tzadik (righteous person) of Jerusalem, heard about the obstinate grocer and was pained that a fellow Jew would willfully desecrate the Shabbat. One Friday afternoon, Rabbi Levin dressed early for Shabbat, donned his shtreimel (round, fur-trimmed hat worn by many Jerusalem residents), and went to the store. It was well before sunset when Rabbi Levin entered the shop. He walked quietly through the store, eyeing the goods on the shelves and watching the brisk flow of customers and purchases. He sat down on a chair near the back of the store and observed the activity.
The owner recognized Rabbi Levin, but didn't say anything to him, thinking that perhaps the elderly rabbi was resting and would soon be on his way to synagogue. As sunset drew near, however, the grocer wondered why Rabbi Levin made no effort to go. He began to feel a bit uncomfortable with the great rabbi's presence in the store so close to Shabbat. The proprietor was busy with customers, but every once in a while he would steal a glance at Rabbi Levin, who seemed to be sitting there for no apparent reason.
Finally the grocer approached Rabbi Levin and said, "Rabbi, I see you have been sitting here for a while already. Can I do something for you? Are you feeling alright?"
Rabbi Levin stood up and, after exchanging pleasantries, said to the grocer, "I heard that you kept your store open on Shabbat. I know that others have spoken to you about it, but I wanted to come and see for myself how difficult it is for you to close for the holy Shabbat. Now I know without a doubt how hard it is for you to close and give up so much business. Honestly, I feel for you, but what can I say? Shabbat is Shabbat!"
The grocer was silent for a moment, and tears welled up in his eyes. He said, "My dear rabbi, you are the only one who took the time to come out here to see the situation from my point of view. It means so much to me that you came to my store. Everyone else just criticized me from a distance." Warmly, he shook Rabbi Levin's hand and said, "I promise you that I will do what I can to see if I can close the store on Shabbat."
Rabbi Levin wished the grocer a "Good Shabbat." Within weeks, the store was closed by sunset every Friday afternoon.
It was the care for another Jew as an individual that led this one Jew to close his store on Shabbat. We should follow the lead of Rabbi Levin. Through our love and care for each and every Jew, we could bring so many of those who have drifted so far away back to Judaism. We must regard every Jew as important, and do what we can to bring them back to the ways of Hashem. This is our responsibility to our fellow Jew.
Pinchas Landis, a native Atlantan, is in his first year at the Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchonon (Yeshiva University) in New York.
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