dvar for parashas Bamidbar 5781

“Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel.”

– Leviticus 1:2

The Hebrew, translated here as “take a census, literally means “to lift up the head.” literal translation, ‘lift up the head.” This can be understood in different ways. In a positive sense,  that the people being counted within the census, would be exalted. Otherwise, a negative connotation would be to have their heads lifted off from upon them, meaning demerited. This dual meaning is found in regard to Joseph’s interpretation of the butler and the baker: one who was elevated to his former status, the other who was executed (Genesis 40:13, 19). The phrase implies that if the people were worthy, they would be elevated; however, if not, they would be judged (Ramban).

The census itself, is associated with divine scrutiny from Above. Therefore, it is feasible to comprehend that there would be two possible outcomes, along a continuum: pass or fail. This is akin to the predicament every year on Rosh HaShannah, when all mankind is judged for the year. Moreover, the Judgment at the end of history, when all inhabitants on earth are judged for what manner our lives were lived. Why a census itself is a time of scrutiny is unclear; it’s as if along with counting every individual, our deeds and misdeeds are also taken into consideration for good or bad.

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