Bamidbar – Heads or Tails?
Censuses are very common. Some countries take a census every year, but most suffice with a census just once every few years. The counting incurs great expenses, energy and manpower. It takes enormous organization to put together and print (or publish online) a detailed form with all relevant questions for each household. Every address must be accounted for and must be crosschecked against other lists and databases.
Collection of the data needs to be enforced, so that the forms are not ignored by too many households. The data collected must then be analyzed and the results must be calculated and published.
The Torah’s census was a little more simplified. It didn’t have to deal with different ethnicities, races and religions, although it did have the numerous tribes to consider. There were no questions related to academic levels of the wilderness citizens; there were no statistics altogether on the agenda of the census other than numbers.
The Haftarah this week, from Chapter 2 of Hosea, opens with the following verse:
“The number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can neither be measured nor counted…”
The irony is not lost on us that this verse has been fulfilled in more ways than one. The numbers of Israel has indeed been trampled upon like the sand of the sea. Furthermore, there is no clear estimate of the number of Jews in the world today, given the reluctance of many Jews to identify, and given the difficult question that arises today of ‘Who is a Jew?” Indeed the Jewish people cannot be measured or counted today.