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Who Counts, and Who Does the Counting. Penny Lane's B'nai Mitzvah Drash

06/24/2021 11:46:41 AM


Penny Lane


In my Torah portion, B’midbar, Numbers Chapter One, the Israelites are in transition between slavery in Egypt and being a free people in the Promised Land.

They are not yet a nation, and not in their Promised Land either. Moses & Aaron are commanded to take a census, to count the men able to fight.

In her commentary on the Book of Numbers called “Bewilderments”, Dr. Avivah Gottieb Zornberg tells us that “a census opens up two possibilities. In being counted…there is a field of promise AND peril, for to count... to be the one to say what counts-that is, the counters tell us who fits, who matters, who belongs.”

She goes on to tell us “The book of Numbers is about survival, power and blessing.”

It feels good to be counted, doesn’t it? To be counted means you have significance.

You matter.

It means you belong to something bigger than yourself.

You belong to group, a family, or community that we are either born to, create, or join.

When America was first founded, we were only counted if we were male land-owners. Today, our number is has much more meaning. We are counted in families. We are counted by professions, political belief systems, as Jews, or as non-Jews. As vaccinated and unvaccinated.

And because we are counted, we matter, we belong, and in belonging, there is home and place and significance.

We are privileged when we are counted. I love being counted as a mother, a wife, a Jew, a member of this congregation.

But the opposite is also true, and should be remembered.

To not be counted also means something, and I’ve been in that place too. People who don’t get counted, don’t matter to those who do the counting.

To not be a part of the counted, means something totally different, doesn’t it?

It means being on the outside, looking in.

It means not receiving the benefits.

Benefits of recognition. Benefits of Equal rights. Jobs, privileges, Land, nation or citizenship.

Experience tells us, being on the outside looking in is the greater burden to bear.

The feeling of not belonging, or NOT being counted is a heavier weight on the soul.

When you are the minority of any group, not belonging becomes your identity,

The identity of the non-citizen, the stateless, the homeless, and the weight of it is your load to bear even though you may have no real way to change your place in the hierarchy.

My question for us is: what are we as Jews do to for those that who usually don’t count in the world’s eyes?

Let's think about who these people may be.

Our Torah commands us Jews to Tikkun Olam, defined as acts of kindness to repair the world.

An interesting way of putting it, wouldn’t you say? Why would the Torah not ask, but command us not just to be charitable, which it does, but to “repair the world?”

Perhaps because the essence of Wisdom knew that we as Jews know what it feels like to be excluded, having once not been a people, having once been the outcasts, wandering in the dessert, oppressed and excluded from nations, professions, schools, and communities.

Most of us have felt excluded at one time or another.

Can you remember that feeling?

Can you imagine that feeling being a daily constant, not just feeling, but a lived experience?

May we remember what it is to counted, but even more importantly, may we remember what it feels like to not be counted, because it is the heavier load to bear.

May we emulate the compassion of the Torah daily, in our words, in our behavior, not just to each other, but to those who usually don’t count, and

May we do something to Repair their lives, to put our Torah, and our Jewish faith and grace into practice daily. Thank you for listening.


Tue, March 28 2023 6 Nisan 5783