Ki Tissa: A Different Kind of Census Taking


Ki Tissa: A Different Kind of Census Taking

by Yossi Lipsker - Swampscott, MA

February 13, 2014

This week's Torah reading opens with the command to take a census of the Jewish people in the desert.

Yet the Jewish people have always been uneasy about counting our own numbers. This "count phobia" might have actually originated in this week’s portion where they collected coins from the people and counted them instead of the people. This continues to the present day when we say “not 1 not 2" to see if there is a minyan in shul. And good luck trying to get my Bubbi to tell you how many grandchildren and great grandchildren she has.

Given this Jewish discomfort with counting it is surprising that G-d keeps asking for the census. And why does G-d the "all knowing" need us to count altogether?

Considered Kabbalistically, there's something else at play here. For me the key is always in the words. The Hebrew word for count, tissa, in our text also means to lift up.

The Divine values of this fledgling nation are being established right from the get-go; in order for us to count in the eyes of G-d, we must first count in one another's eyes.

How? The Jewish answer is quite clear. Ki tissa et rosh . . . if you see a person who's head is down, then you must a find a way to uplift the individual and remind them that they too count and were put here by G-d for a purpose that only they can achieve. The mere act of graciously acknowledging another's presence is sometimes all it takes to pull them out of their existential loneliness. Joining together in shul for prayer is often more about a validation of self than a discovery of G-d. Seen this way,the census is less about knowing numbers, more about us growing closer and fostering a sense of community amongst ourselves.

I was present last week at a meeting between The Ruderman Family Foundation and representatives of the Chabad-Lubavitch world organization discussing a major initiative on inclusion for Jewish people with disabilities in our communities. Leading this initiative, my friend Jay Ruderman and his family have blazed a path of inclusion instead of segregation for our Jewish brothers and sisters with disabilities. With this initiative, they are taking the census the Jewish way, making sure not only that every individual Jew is counted, but knows that he or she counts.

We as a community must step onto this path as well. We can no longer stand on the sidelines. We must work together towards this goal and widen the circle of inclusion so that every Jew, regardless of his or her disabilities or challenges, is fully integrated. As this week’s Torah reading reminds us, we are incomplete unless we’ve counted and appreciated every member of Klal Yisrael


Yossi Lipsker is Director of Chabad of Boston's North Shore, Swampscott, MA

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