An Orderly Count


shavuos1By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

 This week’s parsha of Bamidbar begins a new sefer in the Torah. The parsha discusses the commandment to count the Bnei Yisroel and the order of their encampments as they made their way to the Promised Land. Chazal pre-ordained that parshas Bamidbar should always be read the Shabbos before Shavuos. Perhaps this is because of the unique lessons inherent in the mitzvah to count Bnei Yisroel that are particularly relevant as we prepare to culminate the Sefirah counting.

 As Rashi writes on the first posuk, Hakadosh Boruch Hu counts the Jews because he loves and treasures them, much the way a person tends to count and constantly monitor his money and other valuable possessions. 

 The Gemara in Maseches Bava Metziah 21b, commenting on this universal tendency, writes that if you find money in the street, you can assume that the owner has already recognized his loss and given up hope of ever getting his money back. This is based on the principle that since a person values his money, he regularly taps his pocket to make sure he hasn’t lost his wallet. Rarely does it happen that an object as valuable as a wallet or checkbook goes missing without its owner instantly realizing it. 

 We don’t lose sight of things that are important to us.

 While there are many millions of Jews, every person is special in his own right and this is why each and every individual is counted. No Jew should ever feel that there are enough Jews in the world without him and he is therefore superfluous. No one should ever feel as if he is a faceless statistic of no importance. No Jew should ever be made to feel as if the world would be better off without him.

 Every person should be treated the way we would want others to treat us, because we are all created in the image of G-d and are all precious in the eyes of Hashem.

 People tend to be quick to condemn without knowing all the facts and without taking other people’s feelings into account. One of the steps we must climb during this period of Sefirah is the one that demands that every person be treated with proper respect. This lesson is implicit in Hashem’s command to regularly count the Jewish people to make known their love and importance to their Creator.

 Rabi Akiva had 24,000 students. The magnitude of their ranks might have been responsible for why these students didn’t feel an obligation to treat each talmid as   indispensable. Since there were so many of them, their chashivus in each other’s eyes was diminished. Thus, they didn’t treat each other with the maximum respect.

 Just a few short decades ago, our people were almost decimated, r”l. Now that we have been blessed with remarkable growth, we must still value our fellow Jews the way Jews cherished one another during those awful day of persecution.

 Not many years ago, yeshivos went begging for students. Just because schools are now bursting with talmidim and talmidos doesn’t mean that we should take them for granted.

 The parsha also discusses the order in which the Jews traveled and rested in the desert: “Ish al machaneihu, ve’ish al diglo…” If everyone stayed in their appointed areas and didn’t stray into territory where they didn’t belong, they would be blessed. “VehaLeviim yachanu soviv leMishkan Ha’eidus, velo yehei ketzef.” There will be no cause for Divine anger upon the Bnei Yisroel if the Leviim remain encamped around the Mishkan.

 The ability to recognize your proper position in the constellation of Am Yisroel is vital to achieving greatness and Divine assistance. Every shevet and every person in the shevet had to line up in their designated areas. There was no room for deviation – for a person to imagine that he could do better for himself if assumed a position somewhere other than where his shevet and lineage dictated. 

 There is often the temptation to step out of bounds, to think that if we were only in the place occupied by Bnei Levi, we would be able to accomplish more. We would be able to explain to them where they are misguided, what they should really be doing and how they could do it most effectively. So we jump out of line and out of order, ultimately helping no one and dooming ourselves to failure.

 What causes such a lapse of judgment? It appears to come from a lack of humility and an overabundance of hubris; our self-importance gives rise to delusions that we belong where we don’t.

 The ability to maintain proper order in our personal and communal lives is vital to being able to accomplish our own personal mission in life. This is one of the lessons of Sefirah. Counting the days during the Sefirah period provides us with the opportunity to inject proper order in our lives in preparation of Shavuos. Much as Rosh Hashanah is preceded by Elul, Shavuos is preceded by Sefirah, when we are given the opportunity to work on refining ourselves for the great day.

 The day the Torah is given anew each year is rapidly approaching. Ever since the second day of Pesach, we have been marking off each day that passed since we sat at the Seder celebrating Yetzias Mitzrayim. The departure from Mitzrayim was the first step of the redemption process which culminates with Shavuos.

 As we approach Shavuos, we need to assess how we measure up to the goals of Sefirah as spelled out for us by Chazal. Have we grown spiritually over this period? Have we improved our middos and the way we conduct ourselves in our dealings with our fellow Jews? Have we made ourselves worthy of accepting the Torah anew?

 Sefirah is meant to be a process of growth and spiritual elevation. It is a reminder of the continuous opportunity for strengthening and deepening our yiras Shomayim and commitment to Torah, as we move along the path, one day at a time, from Yetzias Mitzrayim towards Kabbolas HaTorah.

 True greatness is not something anyone is born with. It is acquired through hard work, dedication, unceasing study, review and practice. That is true of any pursuit, and certainly with regard to Torah. Before one can accept the Torah, before one can understand the Torah, he must attain a certain level of accomplishment in knowledge, in purity of thought and intention, and in his actual deeds.

 Forty-nine rungs must be ascended, forty-nine gates of knowledge entered, and forty-nine days of Sefirah must have made their impact on one’s mind and heart before the journey’s summit is climaxed on Mount Sinai.

 As the Am Hanivchar, we have to rise above the decadence, arrogance and falsehood that surrounds us. We have to work on purifying ourselves of the human failings that entrap us.

 Before we can accept the Torah, we have to improve the way we deal with our fellow man and our relationships with family members, neighbors, employees and business acquaintances. We have to suppress our egos and physical drives; we have to properly organize ourselves on the personal and communal level. That is what sets us apart from the rest of humanity.

 The summons to kedushah is forever before us. In countless ways, through every single day of the year, but never more explicitly than during the days leading up to Kabbolas HaTorah, the Torah is always calling upon us to heed our better nature, to perfect ourselves, so that we can ascend the mountain.

 Let us demonstrate, with our personal behavior, that we have learned from what transpired to the talmidim of Rabi Akiva, that we have improved in the crucial areas in which they failed. From the kindness, respect and humility with which we treat each other, we can show that we are truly deserving of the Torah and are prepared to accept it.

 Let us all make ourselves worthy, with Hashem’s help, of complete acceptance of the Torah and usher in the yemos haMoshiach, bimeheirah biyomeinu.