The Deeper Meaning of the Census by Avi Hirt


Parashat BaMidbar begins with the second census of Bnei Yisrael. The Torah states, “Seu Et Rosh Kol Adat Bnei Yisrael” “Lift the heads of the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael” (BaMidbar 1:2). Why does the Torah use this peculiar language instead of outrightly saying “count?”

The Midrash teaches that “Seu Et Rosh” regards those who have the potential to either reach extreme highness, or extreme lowliness in their life, and are therefore given special attention by Hashem, and have their heads “lifted” up by Moshe in order to see the great good they can achieve.  This idea is further illustrated by Potifar’s imprisonment of Yosef. While conversing with the Sar HaOfim (Paroh’s head baker) regarding the interpretation of his dream, Yosef states, “BeOd Shloshet Yamim, Yisa Pharoah Et Roshecha MeiAlecha” “In three days, Paroh will lift up your head” (Bereishit 40:19).  Yosef is informing the Sar HaOfim that in three days Paroah will judge whether he will achieve greatness by being restored to his previous position or be executed.  This, too, shows the deeper meaning of “lifting up one’s head” - that it reflects the potential for two opposite extremes.

This idea can be related to a personal story.  My great grandmother survived the Holocaust, and witnessed horrors occurring to her fellow Jews, which could have easily convinced her to give up her religion. However, she never lost her faith, and persisted as a member of Klal Yisrael. She had two extreme options set in front of her: she could renounce her Judaism or she could persist through the Holocaust, keep the Mitzvot and Torah, and defy the Nazi’s will. My great grandmother established a religious family and achieved extreme greatness.

The Torah is teaching us that there is a reason why Hashem created us.  By being counted by Hashem, He is giving us special attention in order to convince us to take the path of extreme goodness, and it is our responsibility to do so like my great grandmother, who chose to stay religious, ever after witnessing the atrocities of the Holocaust.  Bnei Yisrael must strive to follow Hashem’s path and Torah, and to reach the extreme good that Hashem shows is achievable.

We All Count by Isaac Shulman

Count Us Out by Rabbi Ezra Wiener