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Parsha Mattot Massei

This week we finish Chumash HaPekudim, the book of the counts. Our sages labeled Bamidbar as the book of counts because it is bookended by counts of the Jewish people. As the people of Israel commenced their march towards the land of Israel they were counted. And as they entered the land 38 years later, they were counted again. Not only was the same basic procedure repeated but they had almost the exact same number. Why was a second count necessary?

We can give a technical answer to this question. The count of the Jewish soldiers was necessary to divide up the land after the conquest, and as such, an exact tally was needed. In monetary matters, it is important that we are always very careful and very precise. Similarly, the Levi'im needed to be counted because they would then be entered into a roster for the Temple service. Again, precision was necessary to make the task successful.

However, there is something more fundamental to our lives as well. Sometimes we can repeat very mechanical tasks, even when the outcome is not so different. Sometimes we repeat an action that is mechanical. It didn't need repeating, however, the process of repetition gives us new insight, It lets our minds sore, our vistas expand, and our understanding of the process changes as a result.

When the Jews were first counted in the desert, they were counted in their full lineages going back 280 years. When the Jews were counted the second time, they were only counted based on their father's houses. The reason for this change is that the Jews left Egypt as a backward looking people, defined by shared experiences. When they were recounted 30 years later, they were defined, instead, by a shared vision. It is that change in perspective which allowed them to conquer the Land and build the nation which they needed to be, which could then go on to change the world.


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