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Holy communities are built by people who count and are counted

06/14/2024 09:41:11 AM

Jun14

Rabbi Bryan Wexler

We just finished counting the Omer and now we find ourselves counting again as this week’s parashah, Nasso, opens with the Israelites being counted. God instructs Moses to continue the census of the Israelites who are assembled in the desert. The counting is an elaborate process that began in the previous parashah and takes twenty days to complete. But why does God need a census?  The answer, it seems, is that the census was not conducted for God’s sake, but rather for those being counted. The experience of being counted and of having one’s name carefully recorded was of critical importance to our ancestors who were still navigating their long and winding journey from slavery to freedom.

To be counted, then, is part of the process of claiming one’s full humanity and freedom. The fact that God commands the census gives it added weight and further underscores each person’s infinite value and holiness.  However, the census’ significance no doubt made exclusion from it all the more painful. Women and children were not counted in the census. And so, reading about the census this week encourages us to reflect on the question: what work must we do to make sure everyone feels counted, seen, and equal? 

June is Pride (LGBTQIA+) Month. And so, as we reflect on this question of counting, we need to ask: can we say that, in every corner of the Jewish community, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews truly count? Are we creating communities in which everyone feels welcome, safe, and valued?  We certainly work hard to create such a community at TBS each and every day.  But sadly, as we know, this is not the case everywhere.  

Judaism insists that we must see each individual — gay and straight, bisexual and pansexual, transgender and cisgender, queer, and ally, as equal and as a person of God. Every person’s voice matters. Every person’s presence matters.  Every person’s life matters. Everyone is unique.  Everyone is different, yet everyone is also created in the image of God and of infinite importance.   

Holy communities are built by people who count and are counted. As we count, may we forget no one, and as we are counted, may no one forget us.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784