Numbers and more numbers. The fourth book of the Pentateuch opens with the counting of the Jewish people. This was not the first census since leaving Egypt nor would it be the last. As Rashi points out this constant counting reflects the Divine love that G-d has for each and every one of us. After all we humans count those things that are dear to us. Unfortunately for many the only things that they count are their material accumulations. Our calendar is set up in such a way that parshat bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot. Shavuot of course, is preceded by a count of forty-nine days as we eagerly anticipate the receiving of the Torah, something that we must do each and every day. In the census itself the Jewish people were actually counted in two stages. First the Torah describes the enumeration of the twelve tribes: the entire tally was 603,550. Yet the Levites were not registered among the rest of the Israelites as G-d had commanded Moses (2:33). The Leviim who represented the spiritual side of the Jewish people, teaching Torah and attending to the running of the Beit HaMikdash apparently could not be counted along with the rest of the people.
As important as material blessings are they are qualitatively different than spiritual blessings. The Torah thus enumerates a separate counting of the tribe of Levi; a counting that unlike the rest of the Jewish people, who were counted from the age of twenty, begins at one month. There is an important message here for us and how we relate to our lifes goals. While one should only worry about material concerns when one reaches adulthood spiritual training must begin immediately upon birth (in Jewish law it was only upon reaching thirty days that there was a solid presumption that the child would actually survive). If one wants to produce a spiritual person one must begin immediately upon birth. We now know that children do begin learning even before the age of thirty days.
Amazingly though the Leviim tallied only 22,000 whereas even the smallest of the twelve tribes numbered over 41,000. Whereas in the material world it is quantity that is so important in the spiritual world it is quality not quantity the counts. It was not because you had great numbers than all the other nations that G-d embraced you and chose you, you are amongst the smallest of all the nations, It was because of G-ds love for you. (Devarim 7:7-8). Even one person can accomplish so much. People such as the Vilna Gaon, Baall Shem Tov, Rav Yisroel Salanter, Rav Solveitchik, even Theodore Herzl transformed the Jewish world by their sheer determination and skill. Despite their different role the Leviim were not to encamp away from the other tribes but rather were to be right in the middle of the camp. We do not believe in the complete separation of the spiritual and the physical but rather we must strive to ensure that the spiritual will influence the physical even at the risk of the influences going in the wrong direction.
Today Jewish communities are much concerned about continuity, worrying about the declining number of Jews (at least in the Diaspora). Throughout our history when we numbered mush less continuity was not a concern. Our spiritual devotion and strength guaranteed our continuity. It is only if we leave our spiritual roots, our Torah that we are in danger of being swallowed by the world at large. As long as we inculcate our youth with a yearning for spiritual growth we will be able to count many accomplishments of our people. Shabbat Shalom!