Bamidbar – in the wilderness – the book of countings – the book of being counted.
Just as Leviticus had another name, the Torah of the Priests, Bamidbar has another name too: Ha’Pikudim – the book of taking note, of noticing, of being noticed. P’K’D – the shoresh is used about Sarah, in Genesis. It’s translated as “remembered” – God remembered Sarah, but it’s more. God “pakad” Sarah. God noticed. God took note of, not just remembered. It’s deeper than that.
This fourth book of the Torah begins “on the first day of the second month, in the second year following the Exodus from the land of Egypt” (1:1). We are still at the mountain. We haven’t moved yet, but it’s time to get on the road. The first thing God does is call for a census. The text says, “s’u et rosh” –lift up the heads and count them, one by one. The text proceeds to number each of the tribes, each of the tribal heads. They were the leaders of the community, and they needed to literally stand up and be counted.
Things happen when you are counted. You can’t hide. You stop being anonymous. You have to own your identity. Others notice you are there. You not only get counted, but suddenly you count. It matters that you’re there. You have a role to play and you’re not just taking up space.
The Israelites were all together at Sinai, but now in Bamidbar, they begin to be divided up into their tribes. They take note of where they are to stand and march in relation to the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. They have roles to play, and it matters where they are. They are being counted by God and Moses and by each other. They have become…accountable. They are accountable to their community, to their leader,to their God.
My grandmother used to say that if you lift your head up above the crowd, someone will come by and slice it off. That was her experience, and it is the experience of so many around the world. To speak out is to risk never speaking again. It’s hard to stand up and be counted, especially when things matter the most. We are at a time when things matter the most, because much is threatened. Our health , our rights, our natural world, so much is at risk. We can’t all stand up for everything, but each of us can stand up for something. Stand up and be counted.The voices we raise with our heads held high have to be raised only for those who can’t speak on their own, but to keep the righteous roar going.
It’s time to keep speaking out, to be counted and to be accountable toour community, our neighbors, our leaders…especially our leaders…and ourselves. Lift your head up.