The books of Numbers is certainly living up to its name. Chapter 2 not only repeats the final count of adult males for each tribe, it saves us the trouble of doing the math, adding up the totals of each group of three tribes that camped together. Even more repetitive than this, the Torah then totals these numbers to give us the sum of all the tribes, a number that we already saw in the last chapter.
It seems like the Torah could have chosen a much simpler path, especially for the mathematically challenged. As we are organizing ourselves into a nation, you would think the number we most want to emphasize is the number one. “One flag, one land, one heart, one hand. One nation, evermore,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes. To form diverse groups made up of diverse people into a unified nation, you would think that what’s needed is to create a singular identity that all can partake in.
This was the approach of the young Jewish state as it tried to erase the exilic identities of its returning sons and daughters and transform them into New Jews. Although it had the best of intentions, it was an attitude that burdened Israel with deep, persisting wounds, with suffering, discrimination and hatred of the other, while depriving it of cultural richness.
But slowly, we’re learning our lesson. The “Unity Day” marked this past week bore the subtitle- “unity from within diversity”, with a powerful video pointedly expressing the departure from the old Israeli conception of unity. Don’t think of this as new ideas of post-modern multiculturalism. It’s the message of Bamidbar.
The Jewish people doesn’t have one flag, it has twelve, each one proudly expressing the uniqueness of each tribe. Each tribe has an identity, the groupings of tribes have an identity, the nation has an identity, and every individual has an identity that should not be erased by any of those groups.
After all, if there is something that the Torah is counting, apparently, we are meant to understand that – it counts.
This was the 100th post in a daily blog reflection on the daily 929 chapter of Tanach! Come join the 929 journey- learn more (much, much more) by visiting 929.org.il