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    Why count the people? – B’midbar

    The census of the Israelites, by Henri Félix Philippoteaux

    The Ramban (Nachmanides) wonders why Moses took a census of the people.

    He gives two answers. The first answer is that the count showed that God knew and loved every individual.

    The second: it showed that Moses and Aaron realised that each Israelite was distinctive and needed handling in their own way.

    The first answer is clear since God sees and understands every one of the world’s population. But the second answer?

    How can Moses and Aaron be expected to know every one of the 600,000 male adults – two million people when we include the women and children?

    A rabbi sometimes despairs of relating to every one of his congregation. Even large congregations do not number anything like 600,000. Yet the Ramban says that all the people were known to the leaders.

    Moses and Aaron did not keep to an ivory tower or focus on any one group. They went out and about and visited every home and family. Hard work, but without it there was no relationship or rapport.

    The Talmud (B’rachot 28a) criticises Rabban Gamliel who had no idea of the poor conditions in which Rabbi Y’hoshua lived.

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