The Intangible Other Half

June 3, 2022

This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, begs the question, what does it mean to be counted?

As we begin reading our fourth book of the Torah, the text immediately sets the stage as a flashback to our exodus from Egypt, “On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, Gd spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying: ‘Take a census…’” (Numbers 1:1-2)

For centuries our rabbis have explained the importance of this census in providing details as to the size of the Hebrew nation upon its departure from Egypt. However, there was also another symbolic reason for this census, the public display of parity among the people.

Each person was counted by their half-shekel. The wealthy were forbidden from giving more and the poor were required to give their equal share. Every person “counted” in the same way.

It is easy to be distracted by the material items in our lives, to think of the size of our homes, the frequency of our vacations, or our lifetime of savings accrued, as defining our success and/or happiness. However, the census is our reminder that each of us is only one soul with equal value to Gd.

There is a tale of the humble Rabbi Zusha who was becoming frail in his old age. When his students tried to comfort him with stories of his kindness equal to Abraham, his leadership equal to Moses, and his wisdom equal to Akiba, Zusha replied, “When I face the Holy One, Blessed be Gd, I will not be asked why I was not more like Moses, more like Abraham, or more like Akiba. I will be asked why I was not more like Zusha?”

It is said that Gd chose the half-shekel because this was the tangible half required to be counted in the census. The other intangible half, however, is how we live our lives, the choices we make, and the actions we perform.

This week I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for your generosity which provided the Jewish Federation the funds this week to:

  • help 180 Ethiopians arrive in Israel in this newest phase that will bring as many as 3,000 more to the already over 97,000 Ethiopians living there.
  • partner with Jewish Family Services to raise critical dollars to support therapy services and training for the Uvalde community in response to the tragic events at Robb Elementary School.
  • send another $10,000 allocation to Moldova to support their educational initiatives for Ukrainian children still in limbo since the onset of the war.
  • finalize logistics to bring two Israeli “Shinshinim” (young emissaries) to San Antonio, who will serve as Israeli educators and experts across the community for the 2022-2023 academic year. (More on this next week!)

And this is only a sampling of your generosity at work in one calendar week!

This week’s Torah portion reminds us of the importance of being counted. But how we can be counted on is up to us. We look forward to having you join us on this journey because we are…


Shabbat shalom,