The Torah portion of ‘Bamidbar’ is replete with numerical accountings of the Tribes of Israel. Seemingly, one could ask: Why does the Torah need to ‘waste’ so many verses calculating the exact numbers of each and every tribe, and afterwards, mention the entire amount of people? And as if that was not enough, the Torah once again mentions their numbers according to the order of encampment in the desert, and then counts them once more according to the four separate camps? Instead of telling us at such great length about how many Children of Israel there were, the Torah could have explained the laws of Shabbat and kashrut a little bit more in depth!
However, this is exactly what the Torah wanted to teach us – the importance of every single, precious Jew, and the significance of the sum total of Israel.
The National Mitzvah: Have Babies!
One of the components of national strength is demography, as we see today, that the fear of demographic imbalance is the motivating force for many who support a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. Even Barak Obama used this argument as a reason to explain his position. Therefore, one of the considerations Jewish parents should take into account when planning on having children is the Jewish nation’s existence as a whole. Even amongst non-Jews, the phenomenon of a wave of births following a difficult war, better-known as a “baby-boom” is common. Out of a sense of national identification, many men, and especially women, feel the need to once more replete the nation, filling the gaping cavity caused by the war. It’s not a disgrace to speak about the national necessity of enlarging families, especially amongst the Jewish nation who still have not recuperated from the devastating blow of the Holocaust, which was the most horrible of all the blows we took for two thousand years. All the more so when we realize just how great the Jewish nation’s mission is to bring redemption to the world. True, numbers aren’t the only component, but they are quite significant.
Had every Jewish family since the establishment of the state given birth to one more child, we would number at least ten million Jews in the Land of Israel today. Our present national situation would have been much better off. The Torah also teaches us that the settlement of the Land of Israel is dependent on the population of Israel, as it is written (Exodus 23:29); “I will not drive them out in a single year, however, lest the land become depopulated, and the wild animals become too many for you [to contend with]. I will drive [the inhabitants] out little by little, giving you a chance to increase and [fully] occupy the land. I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Philistine Sea, from the desert to the river. I will give the land’s inhabitants into your hand, and you will drive them before you.”
The Beautiful Example of the Religious Zionists
Quantity is very important, but not on the account of quality. Just as the multiplicity of children contributes to the building of the nation, so does the development of society in the fields of Torah, values, sciences, and economics.
In this aspect, the National- Religious society in Israel is a unique phenomenon in the entire world. The conventional equation in today’s world is that having a lot of children goes hand-in-hand with poverty and backwardness. But in the case of the Religious Zionists, we see a large society made-up of families who successfully provide their children with quality education towards Torah, values, the sciences, and making a livelihood. There are many things that need improvement, but the direction is excellent, and this path must be strengthened and put on a pedestal for all Jews.
There is a significant difference between a person who, influenced by his surroundings, effortlessly and unintentionally raises a relatively large family, educating his children to Torah and ‘derech eretz’ (good manners), and someone who is aware of the idealistic challenge it entails, and as a result, makes efforts to enlarge his family, to enhance the study of Torah and the building of the Land, and to increase the sanctification of God’s name through the sciences and employment. Knowing that he is setting a good example, he will try harder to influence others.
The Family as a Remedy for Loneliness
Modern life has over-emphasized the principle of freedom, leading to the deterioration of the family, the damaging of spouses’ willingness to honor mutual obligations between themselves and their children, and, at the same time, has decreed solitude upon man. Contrary to the loneliness of the liberated and free individual, it is important to present a living model of a virtuous family which enriches and inspires all of its children with infinite ideas and experiences. Indeed, today’s superficial media tends to emphasize the principle of freedom and to scorn family values. For its part, the feminist movement has also caused women who have merited raising large families to feel inferior. Against this, we must praise family values and women who merit raising large families.
Understanding the Significance
All significant and beneficial matters are accompanied by difficulties. Even a business man who has dealings throughout the world must travel from country to country, losing sleep and is constantly under immense pressure. However, since he enjoys making money, and in order to do so, is willing to go to great lengths, he doesn’t feel that his life is difficult at all. On the contrary, he’s proud of his lifestyle and loves it.
How much more so is this true in the building of a family. The difficulties are great, but the fruits are also enormous; they are the foundations of the future generations, and this is man’s greatest fulfillment on earth. A woman who realizes the deep and wide-ranging significance of building a family will not want to delay giving birth even for a day, and will take pleasure in any effort she must make.
May the words of the prophet from this week’s ‘Haftorah’ be fulfilled within us (Hoshea 2:1): “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered.”
All Fit for Service – To Conquer the Land
Every census has its purpose. The census in the desert was meant to organize the army of the Jewish nation before entering the Land of Israel. We are commanded to inherit the Land, in other words – to conquer and settle it – and therefore, Moshe was commanded to count all the men from the age of twenty years or older, for they would compose Israel’s army. In order for the army to be organized properly, each tribe was numbered “according to the records of their paternal families”. First, the number of men in each family was counted, then all the families connected to that specific division were included and counted together; afterwards, all the divisions within the tribe were counted, in order to know how many soldiers there were in each tribe. Finally, they calculated the sum total of soldiers in Israel’s army: “The entire tally was 603,550” (Bamidbar 1:46).
From the Torah portion “Bamidbar” we must learn the significance of serving in the army, and the importance of the mitzvah to conquer and settle the Land of Israel.