Parashat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim/ May 2, 2009
Yom Ha-Atzmaut 5769
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Prof. Yaakov Spiegel
Department of Talmud
Our rabbis taught (Megillah 32b): “Moses instituted
the practice that
Sermons come in many forms, most being structured out of homiletic material together with moral messages, various insights, etc. Others, however, are built on the edifice of halakhah and structured in a special manner. I have chosen to present a sermon built on halakhic components, as some have done, thus incidentally affording the reader the opportunity, not so common these days, to learn about this type of sermon.
Do We Count?
Our predecessors were perplexed by a problem arising from the forceful claim of the gentiles against the Jews that since Scripture explicitly states, “Indeed, you are the smallest of peoples” (Deut. 7:7), therefore the Jews ought to become insignificant or effaced among the gentiles, and that this effacement would imply (Heaven forefend) that we ought to behave as they do. Various responses have been made to this assertion.  One of them argues that the Jews are enumerable, and there is a well-known rule of halakhah that something that can be counted, even if it is only one in a thousand, is never considered insignificant. Therefore we find that on occasion the Holy One, blessed be He, counts the people of Israel, as Rashi wrote on Numbers 1:1: “Because they are so fond in His eyes, He counts them every hour.” This brings us to the meaning of the words, “because they are so fond,” for this is what gave the Jews the status of being enumerable and hence not becoming insignificant. Here it behooves us to quote Rabbi Moses Haim ha-Cohen Schneider: 
“Take a census of the whole Israelite community” (Num.
1:2), is discussed in the midrash (Numbers Rabbah 1.5):
“As it was said, ‘He did not do so for any
other nation; of such rules they know nothing’ (Ps. 147:20)…
The Holy One, blessed be He, commanded that
we be counted continually, so that we be enumerable, and for this reason we do
not become insignificant among the vast majority of gentile nations, because
something that is enumerable is never considered insignificant.”
This leads us to the conclusion that because
we are counted we can worship the Lord, hold fast by the stronghold of the
Torah, and be a chosen people among the nations.
This could be the meaning of what we are
taught in the Talmud (Bava Batra 10b), “In what way will ‘
The Sands of the Sea
This could also explain the meaning of Scripture in saying,
“The number of the people of
This also explains the Midrash text we cited above from
Rabbi Schneider's writings. “Take a census" (Num. 1:2) – count how many
there are of them, and should you wonder why they were continually counted, the
answer is given in the midrash that explains, “He did not do so for any
other nation; of such rules they know nothing,” that is, He gave us the Torah
and our faith, which is different from that of all other peoples.
Yet ostensibly one might ask how it is that
we behave differently from all the nations, they being the majority, when
Scripture says, “favor the multitude” (Ex. 23:2)?
To avoid this difficulty, the Lord commanded,
“Take a census,” so that the Israelites be enumerable, and that which is
enumerable, even if it is only one in a thousand, does not become
insignificant; thus the people of
It should be added that the above also explains the answer
given by the Talmud in Tractate Yoma regarding the contradiction between
the two parts of the verse quoted above from Hoshea, the first implying that
Israel is countable, the second saying that they will not be countable:
“There is no difficulty here, for one case
applies to times when the will of G-d is obeyed, the other to times when the
will of G-d is not obeyed.” The simple
explanation is that when G-d’s will is done, then
Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Liberation Day fall during the counting of the omer. Divine providence thus intimates to us that these days are to be counted, Independence Day being the 20th day of the omer and Jerusalem Day, the 43rd day of omer. Now, that which is counted does not become insignificant, neither from within nor without. It cannot be made insignificant by the other nations, nor by those among us who refuse to acknowledge these days and their significance.
Furthermore, this year Israel Independence Day falls during the week after the double reading, Tazria-Metzora, which discusses counting days. Likewise, it is considered the week of the double reading, Aharei Mot-Kedoshim, in the first of which we have the counting of sprinkling in the sacrificial service of the Day of Atonement, and in the second of which we have the counting of years of orlah. In a leap year it falls during the week in which we read Emor, where the festivals and counting the omer are mentioned, or in the week of Parashat Be-Har, which deals with counting the years.  In regular years Jerusalem Day fall during the week of Parashat Bemidbar, in which we have the census of the Israelites. In leap years it falls during the week of Parashat Naso, containing the census of the Levites.  Each and every one of these parashot speaks of counting in one form or another. Thus we see that both Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Liberation Day come under the category of things that are counted, and hence the proof of their importance.
 The Hidda, in Devash le-Fi, Section 200.21, briefly presents ten arguments in rebuttal of this assertion.
Hamah al ha-Torah,
 It should be noted that Numbers Rabbah, loc. sit., cites the verse, “He did not do so for any other nation,” as Schneider wrote, and immediately thereafter says: “and thus ‘He has exalted the horn of His people’ (=made them triumphant; Ps. 148:14), which accords with Rabbi Schneider’s interpretation.
 Cf. Noam Elimelech, at the beginning of the chapter on Parashat Bemidbar, for a sort of commentary on the Talmudic passage. Also cf. Pardes Yosef he-Hadash, by R. A. D. Mandelbaum, at the beginning of Parashat Bemidbar, citing additional sources on interpretation of Scripture based on the halakhic ruling concerning enumerable things. Also see the remarks of Rabbi Abraham Englard in his book, Imrei Avraham, Bnei Brak 1982, Parshat Be-Midbar.
 In 1948, which was a leap year, the 5th of Iyar (Independence Day) fell on a Friday, and on the Sabbath Parashat Emor was read.
 In 1967,
which was a leap year, the 28th of Iyyar (Jerusalem Day) fell
on a Wednesday, and on the Sabbath Parashat Naso was read, containing
the census of the Levites who minister the holy service, thus hinting at