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    Counting or discounting – Ki Tissa

    The census of the Israelites, by Henri Félix Philippoteaux

    The statistics of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness were calculated by a census which is described at the beginning of the Book of B’midbar.

    What we find in this week’s portion is the law that counting people has to be done indirectly, not by counting heads but by counting contributions.

    That doesn’t mean that anyone who wants to drop out and not give a contribution is allowed to be ignored, but that the arrangement was l’havdil like the electoral law in modern Australia and some other countries where there is compulsory voting.

    In ancient Israel there was a law of compulsory contribution. Every adult male had to give half a shekel (Rashi on Ex. 30:12).

    The idea that the bureaucracy counted contributions is explained by most commentators (e.g. Rashi) on the basis that counting heads directly had to be avoided except in the case of a plague.

    From the qualitative point of view it changes a person from a static to a dynamic member of society, not just a passive number but an active “doer” who not only can be counted but be counted on.

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