Shavuot 5783 – Letter in the Torah
Three… Two… One!
Countdowns are always exciting. Even just typing those numbers, I felt my heart start to beat faster… what are we counting down to?! What will happen at the end? We learn this anticipation from an early age – even my ten month old daughter gets excited when I count down before lifting her up or starting a song – she knows what’s coming! We have lots of moments of counting in Judaism, and for me it all reflects back to the idea that in Judaism everything is about awareness – noticing and marking moments in time and giving each moment an intention and a blessing!
In Judaism we count a lot of things, but we have a tradition not to count people. When we count to see if we have a minyan, many use a ten word phrase like hoshia et amecha u’varech et nachlatecha, ureim v’naseim ad olam rather than numbers to count. But there are a few times when counting people is really important and those customs and discomfort get put aside, and a census is one of those times. The main focus of last week’s Torah portion was a specific accounting of the entire People of Israel.
Right before we get into the numbers themselves, there is an important introductory sentence:
כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה׳ אֶת־מֹשֶׁה וַיִּפְקְדֵם בְּמִדְבַּר סִינָי׃
As God had commanded Moses, so he recorded them in the wilderness of Sinai. (Bamidbar 1:19)
This counting of the people actually was the moment of Moses learning Torah.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that this counting of the people actually was the moment of Moses learning Torah. You see, according to the Chasidic masters, every single person present at Sinai (which includes all of us!) has their very own letter in the Torah. And in counting up the people, Moses was stringing each of the individual letters together, learning and giving the Torah to the people at the same time. Without every soul present, it wouldn’t have been complete.
When I was a kid, I learned an amazing song by Sam Glaser called “Letter in the Torah” that sings out this exact idea. Fifteen years later, Sam produced my first full length album “Mah Rabu” and then honored me with singing that same song on his 25th anniversary anthology.
As we count these last days towards receiving the Torah, how can you find ways to be present, and how can we make sure to see every other person as the divine and unique letter they are?
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Matan Torah Sameach,