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The Torah definition of counting

Written by d fine

Again in this week’s parsha we find that the word for counting (na’so or se’u) also means to raise up or uplift. What does this tell us about the Jewish idea of counting? Well firstly, we know that one is not normally allowed to count Jews directly. The reason for this is that counting normally puts limits on a person (you are only number 2, 4, 7 and nothing else) yet the Jewish People are supernatural and limitless; so counting would run contrary to who we are. So Jewish counting is not to limit the person being counted. On the contrary, it is to uplift the person (hence naso/se’u). How?
Apart from counting showing an appreciation/importance of the thing beinf counted, the deeper aspect of counting the people is that everyone is put in his place; everyone has a number, a role, and a place to stand (remember that the counting in Bamidbar was connected to the precise formation of the Bnei Yisrael’s encampment). As the Ramban writes, counting is the vehicle via which the people are made aware of their potentials and responsibilities. Perhaps it is for this reason that in ancient Greece a woman would count her age starting from the day she got married – for (apart from counting reflecting an importance) there is nothing better than marriage to put someone in their place!

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