From the human point of view the census has an obvious importance. We need to know how many people make up our population and whether our numbers are growing or declining. But it is God who commands the census, and He is all-knowing – so why does He need the numerical information from the census?
Rashi explains that the census was a mark of God’s love. It wasn’t for God Himself that the numbers had to be ascertained, but in order to teach His creatures a lesson. That lesson is that whichever place an individual occupies in the community list, God still loves him or her exactly the same as anyone else. A Jewish saying says that nine rabbis do not make up a minyan but ten cobblers do.
There are places where the shammas stands outside the shule when they need a tenth man for minyan, and nobody complains if the tenth man he brings in is a High Court judge – or a street sweeper. God loves them all.