Unfortunately, most of us are the sort of customers who are little people. We don’t move millions of dollars around every day of our lives; we probably mean very little to the authorities who run the banking system.
Our gripes are, however, typical of a modern phenomenon that affects everyone, even the “big boys”. We no longer get to spend our money for free. Every transaction costs us something and we’re absurdly grateful when the bank allows us an occasional free transaction.
Everything costs something. Historically, this is a very old principle. We could even have picked it up from reading the Torah portion for this Shabbat.
The opening verses of the sidra inform us that God commanded Moses to take a census of the people. Every Israelite who was counted was not just a number: it cost him something.
The Torah says that “each shall pay a ransom for himself” (Ex. 30:11-16). In Hebrew the word is kofer, linked with kippur, atonement. Whoever is added to the list of the people is liable for military service. He might need to take a life in time of war.
The reason for the war might be beyond debate, and taking lives is an inevitable consequence, but taking life is still a grievous act. A potential soldier has to know that even if legally justified, an act of killing remains morally questionable.
Joining the people comes at a cost; joining the army has its price.
If anyone retorts that it’s not fair, the answer is that we’re dealing with an interim ethic. The moral dilemmas caused by conflict will vanish in time to come when war will disappear and swords will be become ploughshares and spears will be pruning hooks.