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Friday, May 27, 2011

Parshat Be'midbar - who really counts?

With this week's parashah/portion, Be’midbar, we begin reading the fourth book of the torah, also called Be’midbar, which means "in the wilderness.  This book of the Torah is known as Numbers in English, for it begins with the counting of the Israelites for a census. Jewish tradition has long taught that counting people can be a dangerous business.  An obsession with numbers can indeed be destructive, yet we still continue to count.

In writing the poetic commentary on this parashah I had in mind two facts:

1) It  has intrigued commentators for years that the individual numbers in the census never seem to add up to the total that is given in the parashah.

2) In his commentary,  R. Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (19th century) comments on the fact that the Levites are counted in a census separate from the other 11 tribes of Israel. The tribe of Levi is the priestly tribe that serves in the Sanctuary, or Mishkan, and will later serve in the Temple in Jerusalem. As  priests, they have a special status.  However, Levi Yitzhak remarks that the separate census for the Levites can also remind us today, that within each of us there can be found  both Israel (the ordinary people) and Levi (the priestly tribe


what really counts

I   you   we are here
to be counted
but I wonder why this is

the counting has begun
it is now completed
it makes no sense

numbers don't add up
     as if they ever do
each of us is remembered
     each of us is forgotten
as we continue to count

should we take a recount
no   it’s  too dangerous
once is enought
that is why
one should not count people
as numbers
we play with them
  manipulate them
    make them say what we want
as if they could tell us the truth

inflation  deflation      all numbers
they mean nothing
    they are not real
they are not the truth
for the truth is that
we are each individuals
adding up to one
there is no
me  you  him  her  them
there is only one

people cry out      the count is wrong
there should more of dan
   less of shimon   more of joseph
the census makes no sense
numbers only serve to confound

but they are missing the truth
there is no more      and no less
there only is what is
but they can only see is what they wish
what their hearts desire

levi cries out
we do not count
we do not belong

the others cry out
only levi counts
he is special   alone
all of this is  foolishness
stupidity  futility  counting
none of this is real
all and none of us count
it is all an illusion
the only real number that matters
is one

yet still  to this day  we count
who is in    who is out
who is with    who against
who remains    who is banished
who matters       who does not

we argue  we fight  we kill
over numbers
          over counting
all of us wanting to be levi
    though all are israel
all bemoaning we are israel
    though all are levi

if we did not count
perhaps the struggle would end
or perhaps not
for the one   the all
the unity of being
is not    cares not     about counting

the one is about
knowing    sensing
feeling connections
but counting is a fantasy
it separates      it divides
it can kill    and  it  does

yet it will continue
until we stop worrying about the count
and remember that we all belong
to the one without number
             without end
        without borders
without separation

that is the truth
we always seem to miss
the only truth
that truly counts




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