“God said to Moses, “Go up this Mount Avarim and see the land
I have given the Children of Israel.” (Numbers 27:12)
Parashat Pinchas marks the beginning of a transition. The Israelites have completed their wandering in the desert and are camped out on the border of Moab near Jericho. God orders a census of military-age Israelites and since the number (600.000) matches the census taken after leaving Egypt, we understand the old generation has died and the new generation is ready to enter the land.
600,000 is an impressive number and a big group. Yet, when Moses speaks with God, he uses some curious language. Moses addresses God as, “Source of the breaths of all flesh…” (Num. 27:15). By using “breaths” in the plural, Moses affirms that God doesn’t see the Israelites as a singular, monolithic, anonymous mob. Rather, God sees the people as a collection of individuals, each unique and different one from the other. If you think of God as the ultimate role model (not everybody does), the message is clear: it’s all about diversity.
JCC membership figures include some impressive numbers and some pretty big groups of people. Yet, our Statement of Principles directs us not to look at the group as a whole, but rather to value the diversity within the group. We know there are many legitimate Jewish opinions, beliefs, and practices. They are essential for, “…strong and enduring Jewish communities.” Rather than a weakness, Jewish thought recognizes these multiple perspectives as a source of wisdom and strength: “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). Only by acknowledging the individual can the group achieve legitimacy.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom