Bamidbar 5770

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Alex Krule

This is a very exciting week in terms of Torah readings; we begin the fourth book of the Torah: Bamidbar. The English name for Bamidbar is “Numbers,” but this never made any sense to me. In Hebrew, bamidbar means “in the desert/wilderness.” Now, this has no significance at all to the English word “numbers,” so I was naturally perplexed as to why anyone would translate bamidbar this way. The truth is, the English name did not come from this Hebrew name for the book. Actually, the book of Bamidbar has another name – Humash Ha’Pkudim, or Humash of the Counting/Numbers – and it is from this name that we derived this English name of “Numbers.”

But still, after looking at the first aliyah of the sedra, it appears that the name of this book ought to share that of the second book of the Torah – Shmot (Hebrew for “names”) as we read the names of the leaders of the 12 tribes. However, the next aliyot explain why this book was once called Humash Ha’Pkudim; we read about an intricate national census. Instead of listing the individual numbers for each tribe, I will cut to the chase and let you know that at the end of this census, there was a whopping 603,550 men above the age of 20 (but don’t forget women, men under the age of 20, or the Levites!). Though common reasoning behind this census is to determine exactly how many able-bodied men were available to fight in battle, I believe that there is something more to this census – or any other census for that matter. The objective of this census is to take into consideration the magnitude of the individual pieces that, together, make up the larger nation and its greatness.

While this idea of the census provides many great historical facts, we now see many implications today. I could point to the obvious – the 2010 U.S. Census (for those of you living in Canada, you get to share the excitement in November) – but I think that there is a connection that is closer to all of our hearts: USY Membership Reports.

Every month, the Regional Membership/Kadima VPs receive what we would consider the “USY Census” – or the Monthly Membership Report. Instead of once every few years, we in USY have our census every month. You may find yourself asking why we don’t just have one Membership Report at the end of every USY year. The reason is that we in USY genuinely care for and think about each and every one of our members. Each month, we encourage our chapters to reach inward and outward to perpetuate involvement already existent and to attract more people to become involved. Each month, we see where we can improve ourselves, where we have done a good job, and from whom we can learn. As we finish up the 2009-2010 “USY Census” and reread the ancient census of our ancestors, let us think about the individual USYers who make our experiences so great and where we would be, if anywhere at all, without them; let us think about how the sum of those individuals makes a population of strong Jewish youth, committed to improving the world and supporting Israel while maintaining and showing our pride in the core values our faith.