Just a Number?

May 15, 2018 at 2:41 AM , ,

“…Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel…” – Bamidbar 1:2

שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – במדבר א, ב

According to Jewish law, if a mixture contains two components, and one is minute in comparison to the other, we regard the smaller component (under certain conditions) as negligible and insignificant. For example, if milk falls into a meaty dish that is sixty times the volume of the milk, the mixture remains kosher; we regard the milk as nullified in the greater volume of meat.

Some articles, however, are inherently significant and can never be nullified, even if they are lost among thousands of others. These articles of significance include, for example, a living animal, a complete creature (as opposed to a piece of one), or a davar sheb’minyan, an object that is counted, i.e., it is sold by unit rather than by weight or volume. The independent significance of a davar sheb’minyan is established by the very fact that we reckon each individual unit as an article of sale. Given its prominence, we may not ignore the presence of even one such unit (if that particular unit is prohibited for consumption, for example,) even when the mixture contains thousands more like it.

Just a Number
This was the purpose, says the Shelah (Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz, known by the acronym of his work, Shnei Luchos Habris,) of G-d’s command to Moshe to take a census the Jewish people. Through the count, each individual Jew earned davar sheb’minyan prominence and his identity became indissoluble. As a davar sheb’minyan, the Jew is eternally capable of affecting his surroundings and is certainly not overwhelmed by them, despite his being a tiny minority in comparison to the other nations of the world.

This davar sheb’minyan status that the count effected in the Jewish people is unique even in comparison to the other possible forms of “Halachic prominence” mentioned above. For while those distinctive traits are observable and apparent, the distinction of the counted object might not be evident at all. Likewise, G-d’s directive to count the Jewish people revealed the specialness of a Jew that is due simply to G-d choosing him as a member of His nation, and is not contingent on the traits that make him distinguishable from the nations around him.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 4, pp. 1019-1020, vol. 18, p. 25


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