Let Me Count the Ways
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s opening line to her love poem are extremely meaningful to us as we begin to read the fourth book of the Torah, the book of B’midbar, or Numbers. The counting of the Israelite people is a central part of this week’s parashah. The parashah begins with God instructing Moses to take a census of all the congregations of the children of Israel.
The question is, why? Why did God insist on counting the Israelites? We learn in B’midbar Rabbah 2:11 that there were ten occasions on which Israel was numbered, including when they went down to Egypt, when they left Egypt, and after the incident of the Golden Calf. Why, after so many countings, did God insist on yet another one? Because, Rashi says, on account of God’s love for them that every time they went somewhere, God counted them. God, like parents leaving a party, like counselors collecting their campers, shows the love that He has for the people by making sure that they are all there. God understood that as they transitioned from one point of their life to the next that someone should count them to make sure that they are moving along with guidance.
Counting the things that are important to us is something that many of us do all the time. Athletes count their personal statistics. Grandparents count the number of grandchildren they have. Children count the number of teeth lost. Couples count the years that they have been together. People count the years since they graduated high school or college. Each of us find special things in our lives that we mark by counting them. We count them because we care about them and we hope that by marking them, we are showing our affection.
Here at JTS we are also counters. We count 350, the number of years since Jews came to America. We count 5, the number of schools that make up our institution. We count 18, the number of years Chancellor Schorsch has led our seminary. And I personally count 9, the number of years that I have spent at JTS- four years in the Double Degree program with List College and Barnard and five years in the Rabbinical School and the Davidson School of Education.
This week, The Jewish Theological Seminary counts a very special group of people. Thursday (the day you are likely receiving this commentary) is the 110th commencement and there are 116 graduates. After the ceremony a new group of Rabbis, Cantors, Scholars, Educators, and Lay Leaders will be ready to go out into the world and be counted as proud graduates of JTS. They have each had the time to travel as a class together. They started by learning, like the Israelites, the laws of our Torah, and during their time at JTS, they, like the Israelites, formed a community. They found ways to make sacred spaces for God to dwell in. They celebrated s’machot together and they mourned losses together. As the graduates begin to transition from the point in their life to the next, they know that JTS is proudly and lovingly counting them.
The publication and distribution of the JTS KOLLOT: Voices of Learning commentary has been made possible by a generous gift from Sam and Marilee Susi.