D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Count Your Blessings
I often note how easy it is to count our blessings when things are going well, but how difficult it is when times are tough. It’s definitely a challenge to notice the good existing in the world when we are distracted by our problems. This is a bit of a conundrum though, since it becomes much more critical to cultivate gratefulness and count blessings when life throws us a curve. Finding blessings in the midst of tough times can help us cope and give us hope.
This week’s Torah portion Bamidbar, is the first portion in the Book of Numbers also called Bamidbar in Hebrew. Numbers would seem to be an appropriate name for this portion since it begins and ends with a census. It begins with a counting of the Israelite males over the age of 20 who are able to bear arms and ends with a counting of Kohathite males between the ages of 30-50. The Kohathites were essential workers in the Tabernacle. They were tasked with the dangerous job of taking care of the vessels and objects within the sanctuary, all the while knowing how any contact with those vessels could lead to their death.
While counting might appear to be a somewhat boring and tedious task, taking time to count each person can indicate the importance of each individual. In Num. 1:2 the phrase, שאו את ראש [si’oo et rosh], is often translated as “take a census” but literally means “lift the head.” Being counted means being uplifted and according to the Ladino Torah commentary Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, something that is counted cannot lose its identity.
These past few months the notion of counting has become a daily ritual; counting the number of deaths, those who have tested positive, those who have recovered; and the number of people gathered in one place.
But despite the setbacks and challenges, the inhabitants of planet Earth have not only been able to count on each other, but have made it so very clear that each individual counts-- from our modern day Kohathites working on the front lines, to each individual sheltering in place; to each one of us wearing a mask; and each of us practicing social distancing.
In addition, similar to the Israelites who were counted for the census, we can and should count our blessings – that is to say our family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, community, colleagues, essential workers, scientists and many of our leaders. We thank you all as we count our blessings.