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If my letter, the letter to which I am connected, is not there, or is incomplete, or faded, or blurred, the entire Torah is incomplete.

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An acrostic uses each letter of the word to represent another word. This was a way of counting that bestowed honor and greatness on each individual, demonstrating that each individual “counts” and has value in God’s eye. Photo courtesy Chabad.org

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The Zohar (primary text of Jewish Mysticism) says that the name we call ourselves, Yisroel (Israel) forms an acronym, “Yesh Shishim Ribbu Otiyot L’Torah” (There are 600,000 letters in the Torah).

The first problem with this statement is the math doesn’t work out. The Torah actually has 304,805 letters – not even close.

There are several answers to this problem. Rabbi Yehoshua Falk suggests that the Torah together with its Aramaic translation comes to 600,000 letters. Others suggest that many Hebrew letters are actually composed of several smaller letters. For example, the letter “aleph” is composed of a slanted “vav” with a “yud” above and a “yud” below – thus each “aleph” is counted as three letters. In this way the 600,000 figure is accurate.

But the deeper question is – So what? Of what significance is our knowing this number?

Four times throughout the Torah, the Jewish People are counted. But the method used, described in Parshat Ki Tissah, is highly unusual for a census. The logical method would be to ask each household head how many are in the family, and add the sums. But the Torah’s method is different. Each person takes a coin – a half Shekel coin – and passes in front of Moshe and Aaron, and deposits the coin into a box. Then, all the coins are counted.

It seems unwieldy and inefficient. But Ramban explains this method expresses a majestic concept. He says that when each person passed before Moshe and Aaron, there was a moment of contact with these two great men, and each person was known by name to them. And this momentary contact was a merit. Thus, this was a way of counting that bestowed honor and greatness on each individual. This method demonstrated that each individual “counts” and has value in God’s eye.

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, had an unusual practice every Sunday morning – for many years. He would stand while large numbers of people would wait in line. They would pass before him and he would give each one a dollar. His intention was that each one would take the dollar and give it to Tzedakah (though most people kept the “Rebbe Dollar” and gave other funds to Tzedakah).

A woman once asked Rabbi Schneerson why he devoted so much of his precious time to such an unusual task and how could he stand for so many hours giving out dollars. He replied, “I love to count diamonds.”

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But Rabbi Falk explains a deeper meaning to this method of counting. The total number of Jews counted was approximately 600,000 – roughly equal to the number of letters in the Torah. This teaches that the soul of each Jew has a connection to a single letter in the Torah.

The reason they were counted one by one is that this counting was the ceremony by which each Jew became connected to his letter. This unique census created the intrinsic bond between the Jewish People and the Torah.

And just like a Torah scroll, where if even a single letter is missing the entire scroll is invalid, so too is the Jewish People incomplete when the voice of a single Jew is silent.

Every Mitzvah I do, every word of Torah I study is part of the tapestry of Klal Yisroel – the Jewish People. But it’s not just a part of that tapestry – it is a necessary, unique, and irreplaceable part of that tapestry. If I don’t do a Mitzvah I could have done, it cannot be made up by someone else. If my letter, the letter to which I am connected, is not there, or is incomplete, or faded, or blurred, the entire Torah is incomplete.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The world is a gate, not a wall.” This High Holiday season we have just concluded has been historic, challenging, surreal, and for some of us, the deepest spiritual experience of our lives. As it draws to a close, we find ourselves at a crossroads.

“The parsha Ki Tissah opens with Hashem commanding Moshe to take a census of all B’nei Yisrael by instructing each male above the age of twenty to bring half a shekel of silver to be counted. This silver was used to make the Mishkan.” Photo courtesy Ozny.org

We have to ask ourselves a question about this High Holiday season; “Is it a wall, or is it a gate?” Is it a wall, a conclusion to the Jewish year? Have we finished our Jewish activity until next year? Or is it a gate? Is it a beginning from which to grow and deepen our Jewish roots?

Notwithstanding the Covid restrictions in place to protect our health, there are myriad ways to do so. There are more Jewish learning opportunities than ever before. I notice, like many of my colleagues, that more people attend our Zoom classes than used to come in person. And the impact is leveraged by posting and sharing on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

In the last few months we have seen a burst of originality in programming remotely that uses these new formats to enhance rather than limit our experiences. Likewise, the opportunities have magnified for helping our fellow, with just a phone call or text, or offering to bring someone groceries, or even a smile as we pass someone at a distance. In a sense, incorporating Jewish meaning into our lives has never been easier or more accessible.

Find your letter. Connect with it. Permit it to resonate. Cause it to sing aloud. Only you can. And only then will the Jewish People be complete.

Rabbi Michael Whitman is the spiritual leader of ADATH in Hampstead, Quebec. He is also a Sessional Lecturer at McGill University Faculty of Law and heads the Conversion Program of the Rabbinical Council of America – Montreal Region.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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