Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg

The Individual and the Community

In Parshas Bamidbar the Jewish people are counted by toldosam, l'mishpechosam, l'veis avosam, b'mispar sheimos - each shevet, each family, each individual. After the Torah enumerates each of the shevatim, it then gives the sum total of all of them. Why does the Torah have to be so lengthy, to repeat the same formula for each shevet over and over again? And why does it have to give the sum total at the end?

Rashi writes at the beginning of Parshas Shemos that Klal Yisrael is compared to the stars, about which the possuk says, "Hamotzi b'mispar tze'va'am, l'chulam b'shem yikra - He brings forth their hosts by number; He calls each of them by name" (Yeshaya 40, 25.) There are billions of stars in the universe, but Hashem calls each one by its own name because each one has a specific purpose. The same is true with Klal Yisrael. While Hashem counts the entire Jewish people as one large group, He also counts each individual because He cares about each and every Jew. He values each one; He cherishes each one. No one is just a number. Every Jew has a special name because each one has a unique role to play in this world.

"Do not belittle any person...because there is no one who does not have his time" (Avos 4:3.) The mishna teaches that we should treat every person with respect because everyone has something to contribute to the world; every person has his moment to shine (Tiferes Yisrael). But at the same time, it is important for each individual to realize that standing alone diminishes one's effectiveness to accomplish. This could be what Hillel meant when he said, "If I will not care for myself, then who will care for me; but by myself, what am I worth?" (Avos 1:14.) While every individual certainly has value, when he is part of a tzibbur his value increases exponentially because together with others, he can achieve so much more.

In Parshas Bamidbar the Torah counts the Jewish people b'mispar sheimos. It counts each shevet one by one to show how much Hashem cares about the sheim - the special name - of each and every individual. But then it gives the sum total, the mispar, of all the Bnei Yisrael, to demonstrate that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts because when all the individuals of Klal Yisrael join together, they can accomplish so much more as a community.

This perhaps is one reason why Parshas Bamidbar is always read before Shavuos, to highlight the idea that talmud Torah is for every individual, not just for a select few. But in order for each individual to accomplish the most in his Torah learning, he should not study alone. Rather, he should learn together with others (Berachos 63b).

We say at the end of the shemoneh esrei, "V'sein chelkainu b'sorasecha." We ask that we be given our own special portion in Torah. But only by learning together with others will we maximize our accomplishments in Torah and achieve our full potential.

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