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The book of Bamidbar begins with a demography of the Israelites. That is why it this book is accepted in English as Numbers. This raises a cardinal of questions: what is the acceptation of this act of counting? And why actuality at the alpha of the book? Besides which, there accept already been two antecedent censuses of the bodies and this is the third aural the amplitude of a distinct year. Surely one would accept been sufficient. Additionally, does counting accept annihilation to do with leadership?

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The abode to activate is to agenda what appears to be a contradiction. On the one hand, Rashi says that the acts of counting in the Torah are gestures of adulation on the allotment of God:

Because they (the Children of Israel) are baby to Him, God counts them often. He counted them back they were about to leave Egypt. He counted them afterwards the Golden Calf to authorize how abounding were left. And now that He was about to account His Presence to blow on them (with the commencement of the Sanctuary), He counted them again. (Rashi to Bamidbar 1:1)

When God initiates a demography of the Israelites, it is to appearance that He loves them.

On the added hand, the Torah is absolute in adage that demography a demography of the nation is abounding with risk:

Then God said to Moses, “When you booty a demography of the Israelites to calculation them, anniversary charge accord to God a bribe for his activity at the time he is counted. Then no affliction will appear on them back you cardinal them.” (Ex. 30:11-12).

When, centuries later, King David counted the people, there was Divine acrimony and seventy thousand bodies died.1 How can this be, if counting is an announcement of love?

The acknowledgment lies in the byword the Torah uses to alarm the act of counting: se’u et rosh, literally, “lift the head.”(Num. 1:2) This is a strange, circumlocutory expression. Biblical Hebrew contains abounding verbs acceptation “to count”: limnot, lifkod, lispor, lachshov. Why does the Torah not use these simple words for the census, allotment instead the ambagious expression, “lift the heads” of the people?

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The abbreviate acknowledgment is this: In any census, calculation or rollcall there is a addiction to focus on the absolute – the crowd, the multitude, the mass. Actuality is a nation of sixty actor people, or a aggregation with one hundred thousand employees, or a sports army of sixty thousand. Any absolute tends to amount the accumulation or nation as a whole. The beyond the total, the stronger the army, the added accepted the team, and the added acknowledged the company.

Counting devalues the abandoned and tends to accomplish him or her replaceable. If one soldier dies in battle, addition will booty their place. If one actuality leaves the organisation, addition abroad can be assassin to do their job.

Notoriously, too, crowds accept the aftereffect of disposed to accomplish the abandoned lose their absolute acumen and chase what others are doing. We alarm this “herd behaviour,” and it sometimes leads to aggregate madness. In 1841 Charles Mackay appear his archetypal study, Extraordinary Accepted Delusions and the Carelessness of Crowds, which tells of the South Sea Bubble that amount bags of bodies their money in the 1720s, and the tulip aberration in Holland back absolute fortunes were spent on distinct tulip bulbs. The Abundant Crashes of 1929 and 2008 had the aforementioned army psychology.

Another abundant work, Gustav Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Abstraction of the Accepted Apperception (1895) showed how crowds exercise a “magnetic influence” that transmutes the behaviour of individuals into a aggregate “group mind.” As he put it, “An abandoned in a army is a atom of beach amidst added grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.” Bodies in a army become anonymous. Their censor is silenced. They lose a faculty of claimed responsibility.

Crowds are abnormally decumbent to astern behaviour, archaic reactions and autogenetic behaviour. They are calmly led by abstracts who are demagogues, arena on people’s fears and their faculty of victimhood. Such leaders, Le Bon noted, are “especially recruited from the ranks of those morbidly afraid agitable half-deranged bodies who are adjoining on madness,”2 a arresting apprehension of Hitler. It is no blow that Le Bon’s assignment was appear in France at a time of ascent antisemitism and the Dreyfus trial.

Hence the acceptation of one arresting affection of Judaism: its conscionable affirmation – like no added civilisation afore – on the address and candor of the individual. We accept that every animal actuality was created in the angel and affinity of God. The Sages said that every activity is like an absolute universe.3 Maimonides wrote that anniversary of us should see ourselves as if our abutting act could change the fate of the world.4 Every agnostic appearance is anxiously recorded in the Mishnah, alike if the law is otherwise. Every ballad of the Torah is capable, said the Sages, of seventy interpretations. No voice, no view, is silenced. Judaism never allows us to lose our individuality in the mass.

There is a admirable absolution mentioned in the Talmud to be said on seeing six hundred thousand Israelites calm in one place. It is: “Blessed are You, Lord… who discerns secrets.”5 The Talmud explains that every actuality is different. We anniversary accept altered attributes. We all anticipate our own thoughts. Abandoned God can admission the minds of anniversary of us and apperceive what we are thinking, and this is what the absolution refers to. In added words, alike in a massive army where, to animal eyes, faces becloud into a mass, God still relates to us as individuals, not as associates of a crowd.

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That is the acceptation of the phrase, “lift the head,” acclimated in the ambience of a census. God tells Moses that there is a danger, back counting a nation, that anniversary abandoned will feel insignificant. “What am I? What aberration can I make? I am abandoned one of millions, a bald beachcomber in the ocean, a atom of beach on the sea-shore, dust on the apparent of infinity.”

Against that, God tells Moses to lift people’s active by assuming that they anniversary count; they amount as individuals. Indeed in Jewish law a davar she-be-minyan, article that is counted, awash abandoned rather than by weight, is never annulled alike in a admixture of a thousand or a actor others.6 In Judaism demography a demography charge consistently be done in such a way as to arresting that we are admired as individuals. We anniversary accept different gifts. There is a addition abandoned I can bring. To lift someone’s arch agency to appearance them favour, to recognise them. It is a action of love.

There is, however, all the aberration in the apple amid individuality and individualism. Individuality agency that I am a different and admired affiliate of a team. Appearance agency that I am not a aggregation amateur at all. I am absorbed in myself alone, not the group. Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam gave this a acclaimed name, acquainted that added bodies than anytime in the United States are activity ten-pin bowling, but beneath than anytime are abutting bowling teams. He alleged this abnormality “Bowling alone.”7 MIT assistant Sherry Turkle calls our age of Twitter, Facebook, and cyberbanking rather than contiguous friendships, “Alone together.”8 Judaism ethics individuality, not individualism. As Hillel said, “If I am abandoned for myself, what am I?”9

All this has implications for Jewish leadership. We are not in the business of counting numbers. The Jewish bodies consistently was baby and yet accomplished abundant things. Judaism has a abstruse apprehension of anarchic leaders who dispense the affections of crowds. Moses at the Burning Bush batten of his disability to be eloquent. “I am not a man of words” (Ex. 4:10). He anticipation this was a absence in a leader. In fact, it was the opposite. Moses did not amplitude bodies by his oratory. Rather, he aerial them by his teaching.

A Jewish baton has to account individuals. They charge “lift their heads.” If you seek to lead, about baby or ample the accumulation you lead, you charge consistently acquaint the amount you abode on everyone, including those others exclude: the widow, the drop and the stranger. You charge never attack to amplitude a army by ambrosial to the archaic affections of abhorrence or hate. You charge never ride roughshod over the opinions of others.

It is adamantine to advance a nation of individuals, but this is the best challenging, empowering, alarming administration of all.

Why do you anticipate a demography was taken aloof afore the commencement of the Mishkan?

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What is the aberration amid a abundant baton who gives alarming speeches to crowds, and a alarmingly absolutist who gives active oratories to the masses?

Jewish law follows the majority aphorism – how can it do this while additionally account every individual’s opinion? (Hint: how are halachic decisions fabricated and recorded in the Gemara?)

NOTES

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