Pay Up

by | Feb 22, 2016 | Torah Thought

“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “When you take a census of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them.” (Exodus 30:11)

This week we will read the Torah portion of Ki Sisa. The portion starts off with the aforementioned instruction of how to properly take a census of the people. Somehow, that census is connected to atonement. Why do we need to take a census to begin with and what does it have to do with atonement?

I saw a sign recently that said, “Keep calm and take care of yourself.” Yes, it had a crown above it, but no, it was not green and said nothing about chives. It is easy to think about our individual needs and our individual desires. It is easy to consider what I want for dinner tonight or where I want to go on vacation. It is harder to begin to consider even those mundane things when taking into consideration another person’s likes and dislikes. It is even harder when there are a group of people to consider. It is almost impossible when there are millions of people who are bound together, with one united principle, and those people are all told that the way to success is to constantly consider the needs of the group. G-d is asking the Jewish people to consider their individuality in the context of a bigger picture and it is with that perspective that we can heal and atone.

Atonement needs to be done on an individual level and a national level. Individuals atone for their sins, but the Jewish people can work together, pray together, and gather together with a united mission and push away our failings, while embracing the idea of national pride. While the Torah asks us to perform a census and be counted as individuals the expectation is really that we act like one people, with one mission. If we act accordingly then atonement on every level becomes easier and we accomplish that which seems impossible together.

We see this clearly towards the end of this week’s Torah portion with the building of the golden calf. Each person had the power to choose their own destiny. Those who followed the mob and assisted in the building of the idol were blinded by fake hope. They temporarily lost their vision of true freedom and returned momentarily to a fake hope, a hope made of gold instead of hope based in “One nation under G-d.” It is with this theme, this mantra that we push forward as a nation. We can experience hate, pogroms and Holocaust, but we still exist. We exist as individuals and as a nation.

As we read this week’s Torah portion and learn about how each Jew was counted by giving something of value in the census let us each ask ourselves how we are being counted. How are we contributing not just to our personal Jewish future or our children’s Jewish future but to the Jewish people’s future as a whole? We all give money to charity and we all give time to organizations. We should consider how much effort, time, and resources we are depositing into our Jewish community and the Jewish people. In our times maybe this is one way that we can be “counted.” Pay into the census and be part of something great.

—Rabbi Gershon Litt is the executive director at the Norfolk Kollel, rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, director of the Hillels at William and Mary and CNU, and rabbi of the Commodore Levy Chapel at Naval Station Norfolk.