The Differences We Have in Common

May 17, 2020 at 11:06 AM , ,

“…Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses…” – Bamidbar 1:2

שְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם – במדבר א, ב

The census taken in the beginning of the Book of Bamidbar seems paradoxical. On the one hand, a tally of the entire nation, in which each person counts as no more and no less than one, means that each person is counted and valued equally. A count of this nature thus highlights the qualities that are common to every person in the census.

On the other hand, the Torah states that B’nei Yisrael were counted here “by their families; by their fathers’ houses.” As Rashi (Bamidbar 1:2) explains (and as is apparent from the Torah’s accounting of each tribe separately), the members of each tribe were counted individually, and only then was the sum total of all the tribes tallied. Taking a census of each tribe individually implies that each tribe represents a unique unit whose qualities differ from each other, therefore warranting that they be counted individually.

The Differences We Have in Common

How do we explain the two contradictory features of this count: its emphasis on the distinct qualities of each tribe individually, yet tallying all the tribes together, symbolizing the similarity of all members of B’nei Yisrael?

The answer is that the emphasis here on the distinctiveness of each tribe, (some thriving in Torah study, others in business, etc. [see Bereishis 49:3-27],) is not to highlight their differences, but to express how all these distinct features equally contribute to the beautiful tapestry that is the Jewish nation. The tribes are first counted separately, but then all the totals are combined, with each person being of equal value in the sum total, to teach us that the unique quality one Jew brings to the table is as crucial to the nation as the distinct quality brought by his fellow Jew.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 23, pp. 6-7


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