Numerical Value


Take a census of the entire assembly of the children of Israel…

Numbers 1:2

Because they [Israel] are dear to Him, He counts them at all times. When they departed from Egypt He counted them, and when they fell at the [sin of the Golden] Calf He counted them… and [here] when He came to rest His Divine Presence upon them, He counted them

Rashi on Numbers 1:1

Some of us find it in our families. Some find it in our jobs. Still others find it in religion. Although the results may differ, the search is the same: to find meaning and purpose in our lives. A common thread that binds mankind is the need to feel that our existence serves some purpose; that we are not just the result of an accident of birth, but necessary components in the fulfillment of a mission of cosmic proportions. This feeling is perhaps the most essential ingredient of a healthy psyche, fueling the desire to set goals and achieve them.

In the course of human development, it is parents who should first play the crucial role of infusing their children with feelings of worth and value. Tragically, we now live in an era when more and more children grow up without this feeling. Instead, they experience a sense of inadequacy and are engulfed by the confusion that an emotion of worthlessness yields. Torah, in its timeless wisdom, recognizes this essential need and addresses it in a manner that is at once comforting and empowering, at times through the simple act of counting.


Throughout the Chumash, G-d instructs Moses to count the Jewish people on four separate occasions.[1] These are instructions of such great importance that, based on the directive given at the beginning of our parsha, the entire fourth book of the Torah [Bamidbar] is referred to as the “Book of Countings.”[2]  But what was the purpose of these countings? Obviously, it was not merely to take a census, for G-d, with his all-encompassing knowledge, certainly knew how many we numbered. We must therefore conclude that there was another, more profound, intention behind this commandment.

Torah, as with everything that exists, is comprised of both “body” and “soul.”[3] The “body” of Torah includes the narrative and those areas that deal with the more mundane aspects of our lives: Halacha, the laws that one must adhere to on a daily basis. However, Torah’s “soul” comprises the more sublime, esoteric teachings and the philosophies that they contain.

Just as man’s body and soul are fused together as a singular, cohesive and seamless unit, the same is true of the “body” and “soul” of Torah: even within the “body” of Torah there are embedded the most profound lessons, ones that may be thought to be the province of its “soul.” One must first, however, strip away the external layers of a particular law or directive to reveal its fundamental principles and underlying truths, for only then do these lessons emerge.

Now, regarding the deeper dimension of counting, there is a Talmudic law that states that in specific circumstances a food item whose consumption is prohibited may be considered as nullified when a minute quantity of it is accidentally mixed with permitted ones.[4] One of the exceptions to this rule is when the forbidden item is one that is usually sold by number and not by weight. Then, regardless of how minute the percentage of prohibited food found in the mixture may be, the forbidden item is never nullified and the entire mixture is deemed unfit for consumption.[5]

The reasoning behind this ruling is that things that are counted are deemed to have an intrinsic value and importance, one that is not diminished or nullified by it being mixed with anything else.

This now explains why G-d caused the Jewish people to be counted when He already knew their number. By commanding Moses to count the people, G-d was declaring the worth of every single Jew, emphasizing that they are valuable enough to be counted.

What is the special importance and value of each Jew? Each of us has a mission to fulfill; a mission that is specific to him and cannot be realized by anyone else, yet one which affects the entire cosmic vision. Thus, every Jew has an infinite, irreplaceable value.

So G-d was not merely relaying a directive to Moses. He was telling each one of us to utilize our specific talents, thereby fulfilling our unique potential, to enable us to accomplish our particular mission. By relating this in the Torah, G-d ensured that this message would be accessible to everyone, for all time.

Perpetual Meaning

Now we can understand Rashi’s statement that due to G-d’s love of His people, “He counts them at all times.” The Jewish people were counted four times over the course of the Five Books. How does this warrant the description “at all times”?[6]

However, Rashi is not referring to the census per se, but rather to the effect of the countings. For the feelings of self-worth and importance that were revealed through the counting process remained perpetually with the people and imbued them “at all times.”

The same can be said for us in our day and age. Although we are not actively being counted by Divine directive, when we read about these episodes in the Torah, we are given the strength to realize how precious we are to G-d, and how vital it is that we conduct our lives in accordance with His values. G-d Himself is declaring our worth every single moment—one just needs to listen and behave accordingly.

Based on addresses of the Rebbe given Shabbat Parshat Bamidbar 5722 (1962) and 5724 (1964)[7]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Ari Sollish

[1] After they left Egypt (Exodus 12:37); after the sin of the Golden Calf, before the construction of the Tabernacle (ibid 30:12); after the Tabernacle was erected (Numbers 1:2); and before they entered the land of Israel (ibid 26:2).

[2] Talmud, Tractate Sotah 36b.

[3] Zohar, section III, 152a.

[4] In most cases the mixture is deemed permissible if the prohibited item is one-sixtieth or less of the total quantity. It is important to note that this law only applies when the ingredients mix accidentally. If one, however, purposely attempts to nullify a forbidden item—either by concocting a mixture, or by adding permitted items to an already existing mixture (to minimize the percentage of prohibition)—the mixture remains forever prohibited.

[5] Tractate Orlah 3:7; Talmud Beitza 3b; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah, 110:1.

[6] Even including the censuses that were performed later on in history, the Jewish people have been counted only nine times, with the tenth to coincide with the messianic age—Midrash Tanchuma Parshat Sissa 9; Bamidbar Rabba 2:11.

[7] Likkutei Sichot, vol. IV, pp.1019-1024; vol. VII, pp.1-7.


Did you enjoy this? Get personalized content delivered to your own MLC profile page by joining the MLC community. It's free! Click here to find out more.

0 0
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Vess E. Polk jr
13 years ago

The numerical value of the word day is 57 what is the significance of this?

14 years ago

Thank you…