Published in the Baltimore Jewish Times Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum February 5, 2005
A story is told in the Midrash about Moshe Rabbeinu when he was a young man, after he fled from Egypt to the land of Midian and became a shepherd for his father-in-law. One day, a little lamb ran off from the flock. Worried that the lamb would wander into the desert and die of thirst, Moshe chased after it. When he caught up with the lamb, he found it drinking water from a brook. "Forgive me!" said Moshe. "I did not realize that you ran off because you were thirsty." Moshe let the lamb finish drinking, and then carried it on his shoulders back to the flock. Because of Moshe’s tremendous compassion for every one of his sheep, G-d chose him to be the one to bring His "flock," the Jewish people, out of Egypt.
In this week’s parsha,Ki Tisa, we first read that Moshe is commanded to take a population census of the Jewish people, by collecting a half-shekel from each and then counting the coins. The parsha continues with an enumeration of the detailed formula for making the anointing oil used in theMishkan (Tabernacle). Later we read the episode of the Golden Calf, when some of the Jewish people turn to idol worship while Moshe is up on Mount Sinai.
There is a common thread: numbers and calculations figure prominently throughout. The Jewish population was counted. The anointing oil was made of exactly eleven spices in precise measures. The Jewish people received 613 Commandments when they stood at Mount Sinai. They were to count forty days until Moshe’s return—but they miscalculated and were led to idolatry, a betrayal of the first commandment to worship only One G-d. But what does this attention to counting and measuring teaches us on a deeper level?
When we read about the population census, we can grasp G-d’s love for each individual. Like a shepherd who keeps careful watch over his flock, G-d wishes to know exactly how many people are part of His holy nation. Every single person "counts," whether rich or poor, scholarly or simple. Just as every letter in the Torah is needed in order to make it complete, the holy people would not be whole without the contribution of every individual, each with his or her own unique talents and mission. Today, with approximately 12 million Jews in a world of 6.4 billion people, everyone is precious.
When we read the detailed formula for making the anointing oil, we again learn that details count. If you change the amount of any ingredient, you change the result. Only by creating the fragrance precisely as specified was it possible to achieve the desired outcome.
Exactly one hundred years ago, Albert Einstein published his famous theorem, E=MC2, energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. From the vastness of space to the microscopic atom, G-d created an orderly universe filled with infinite details and precise cosmic constants. It is said that the letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet were the actual building blocks used in creating the world; the numerical value (gematria) of the letters are the blueprint of creation itself.
And just as there are equations for phenomena of space, matter, and time, there is also a set formula for loving G-d. All of the mitzvot in this parsha, and in the entire Torah, have the same ultimate purpose: to make us holy by connecting us with our Creator. As it is written, "The whole purpose of the mitzvah is to elevate humanity" (Vayikra Rabba 13:3). When we express our commitment to G-d through tangible actions, we create a close bond with the Almighty. The fine points of each spiritual action are the recipe for sustaining this essential connection. Torah and mitzvot are "our life and the length of our days," and every single act counts.
May we strive to raise ourselves and the world around us through careful attention to the mitzvot we do, and may our deeds tip the scales toward good and bring a time of true and lasting peace. Shabbat Shalom.