The fourth book of the Torah begins with a new census we can understand, not only as an account of names and numbers but also as the multifaceted identity of the children of Israel.
“Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses according to the number of names (…)” (Numbers 1:2)
We can unveil diverse meanings in the words “family”, “father’s houses” and “number of names” as traits, qualities, talents, skills, abilities, ways, attributes and expressions in the children of Israel’s lines of thought, feelings, emotions and their intensity. We remember the episode of the tower of Babel when the Creator infused diversity in human consciousness to repel the one-sided line of thinking and feeling king Nimrod wanted to impose in humankind during those times. Such diversity already existed when Israel became a nation, and in this particular verse we see God’s intention to reaffirm an even wider multifaceted identity for the Jewish people.
“And they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they declared their ancestries after their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names (…)” (1:18)
We see this identification process as a next level of naming the descendants of the 12 tribes, after the first counting we read at the beginning of the book of Exodus. This time God commands unity in Israel’s diversity by the terms “assembly”, “congregation” and “together”, which will be emphasized later in other passages of the book of Deuteronomy.
All the conflicts, divisions, confrontations, disputes or disagreements that may eventually lead to war are the result of the inability to make diversity and their differences coexist in a harmonic functional unity. The cause of this inability is the absence of a common denominator from which all the different parts derive and to which all of them must converge.
One easy way to point it out is calling it God’s will in the context of religion or belief. In our times the preachers of radical fundamentalist religions and ideologies pursue to impose oppression and destruction to suppress the potential of goodness in human dignity and freedom.
Another way to be aware of it is by realizing that the peace derived from love’s ways and attributes must be the root and the expression of all kinds of diversity. All we may be able to discern, imagine, create, be, have and do should be for the purpose of uniting and gathering together all humankind. Thus we realize that goodness must be the motivation, the means and the end to achieve this unity.
“The children of Israel shall pitch by their fathers’ house. Every man with his own banner, according to the ensigns, a good way off shall they pitch round about the tent of meeting.” (2:2)
House or tent generally represents individual consciousness, and in the context of this verse their own personal expressions (“banners” and “ensigns”) are commanded to settle around their center, the Tabernacle where God’s presence dwells in Israel’s midst. Hence God is the cause, the means and the end we were referring above, as the common denominator in the countless diversity of endless dimensions of His creation.
In the same way we see such abundant diversity in our surroundings (landscape, people, animals, etc.) we must also see it within the individual creative potentials the Creator endowed us all in order to make goodness their cause and expression.
As we mention often in our commentaries, the goodness we engender by our love is our common bond with God’s love, and also the common denominator of the ways with which He relates to us and His creation. In this awareness we approach the book of Numbers as the one that encompasses God’s relationship with Israel.