Don't Count People
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted. This they shall give, everyone who goes through the counting: half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel; half of [such] a shekel shall be an offering to the Lord.” ( Exodus 30,11-13)
Rather than count the number of people directly, the Torah (in the above verses) instructs Moses to count the people by collecting a half a shekel from each person. Moses would then count the number of half shekels collected and, thereby, know the number of people. The purpose of counting this way was to avoid a plague, which could have resulted from counting the people individually. This is the source of the idea that we refrain from counting people individually.
This is very difficult to understand. What difference does it make if people are counted individually or via some other means (such as collecting money from each individual)? At the end of the day, the money is counted and the number of people is revealed.
The great Spanish Rabbi, Rabbi Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa (1255-1340), explains that when people are separated, by physically counting them individually, they are simultaneously highlighted as separate individuals in the spiritual world. This results in each individual being judged and scrutinized for his/her actions on an individual basis. This judgment is often not favorable and can result in judgments (plagues) affecting many individuals. Our sages teach us that we should never separate from the community. When we are part of a community, we have much more spiritual merit and protection. This is the reason Rosh Hashanah is a day of tremendous awe and trepidation – on Rosh Hashanah, we are judged by God as individuals!
On Purim, we have a Mitzvah to give gifts to one another (Mishloach Manot). This is an expression of our realization that only when we bond lovingly with one another, forming a strong cohesive community, do we have the spiritual merit to overcome anti-Semites like Haman! May we merit the unity to bring the final redemption of mankind speedily in our days.