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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

March 5 , 2021


Parashat Ki Tisa 5781 - 1 Year and Counting

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, is best known for the incident of the golden calf. However, it begins with these words:

Ki tisa et rosh b’nei Yisrael leefkudeihem... when you take a census of the Israelites... when you take a sum of all the people before you... a moment of counting.

I’ve been thinking about counting a lot this week. We are approaching the one year anniversary of lock-downs and shut-downs, the beginning of social distancing and the continuing impacts of the COVID pandemic on our lives. One year. It has certainly weighed on me this week, and perhaps on you as well.

This week marks counting one year since our last in-person Shabbat services together. While our virtual services, programs, classes, meetings, and more have provided opportunities for us to connect, we know they are not the same as being together in person. In March 2020, we hardly imagined continuing in this virtual mode for more than a few weeks, let alone making it to one year. One year and counting.

Many other forms of counting, tallying, and totaling have taken up our year. Counting how many lives have been lost to the pandemic, including the most recent milestone of 500,000 COVID deaths in the United States. Counting how many cases are present in our community. Recently, counting what percentage of our communities are vaccinated.

And other forms of counting. Counting how many hours we spend on zoom each day. Counting how many days, weeks, or months since we were last able to see family, to gather with friends.

Sometimes all this counting feels helpful, productive, or comforting. At other times, focusing on the numbers only adds to our grief, our sense of the magnitude of the challenges we’re facing, our sadness and loss.

We read in Psalm 90:

Limnot yameinu kein hoda v’navee l’vav chochma

Teach us to number our days, that we may acquire a heart of wisdom.

In his biblical commentary, Robert Alter explains that this line “represents the limitations of human existence...[as compared] to God’s eternal being.”

God is eternal, and we are finite. Therefore, we count our days, and we take a censuses - we count humanity among us.

Ovadiah Sforno, an Italian rabbi of the sixteenth century, goes deeper into the original verse from our parasha:

Our need to conduct a census, to count human beings, stems from the fact that the total number of human beings is not the same each time. Why is that so? Ever since humans became mortal, the number of human beings present in a community is not the same each time they arcounted. In the Garden of Eden, we were meant to live indefinitely. If that were the case, whenever we counted humanity, the number would be same. But the number is not the same each time. Counting, taking a census, is a reminder of our mortality, of our finality, of the precious nature of our lives.

Certainly, this year of counting has brought us face to face with that sense of mortality. At the same time, Sforno enables us to see beyond the challenges of counting.Whenever we count, when we reach a milestone, such as this one year of the pandemic that is upon us, we also have the opportunity to take stock of our blessings.  We have the chance to celebrate our resilience. Here we are, one year later, having never missed a week of Shabbat services since it all began. 52 Shabbatot later: Here We Are.

And our numbers, our census, those among us, are strong, too! Each of those 52 weeks, we’ve been so blessed to have 40, 50, 60 people logging on to join in prayer and community with us from around the Berkshires and all over the country.

Teach us to number our days, that we may acquire a heart of wisdom.

As we continue to count and quantify, to number and reflect, let us remember the power of stopping to recognize these moments and milestones, to know that even in our struggles and challenges, our community is vibrant and strong. That is something we cannot count in numbers, in tens or thousands or percentages or years. That is the uncountable, ineffable essence of who we are as individuals, as a Temple, as a community, and as a world. Resilient and strong.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Sat, December 2 2023 19 Kislev 5784