The Starting Count
This week we begin the book of Numbers. Actually, the first portion,
Bamidbar, begins with a discussion of numbers. Moshe was told to count the
Jewish nation. "Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of
Israel according to their families, according to their fathers' household,
by number of the names, every male according to their head count. From
twenty years of age and up -- everyone who goes out to the legion in Israel
-- you shall count them according to their legions, you and Aaron." (Numbers
1:2-3). This count included every tribe except that of Levi. They were
reserved for a separate count. And their count was not of men ages twenty
and up. It began with a much younger crew. "Hashem spoke to Moses in the
Wilderness of Sinai, saying. "Count the sons of Levi according to their
fathers' household, according to their families, every male from one month
of age and up shall you count them" (Numbers 3:14-15).
The question is obvious. Why did the infants, one month and above, get
counted? Why were the tiny babies included the count? Why were the infant
Levites counted and not the infants of the other tribes? The Torah also
differentiates between this Levite count and the rest of the nation. "The
leader of the Levite leaders was Elazar, the son of Aaron the Kohen, the
assignment of the guardians of the charge of the sanctity" (ibid v. 32).
This was not a count for legions. It was a count to assign the guardians
in charge of sanctity. Does that start at thirty-days-old? Not long after
my father, Rabbi Benjamin Kamenetzky, founded the Yeshiva of South Shore,
back in the late 1950s, he invited his illustrious father Rabbi Yaakov
Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, to visit the school. After an impressive
tour, in which he interviewed teachers and tested the students of the
fledgling institution, my father showed him the pre-school program, which
imbued the youngest children with a love for Judaism. On the portal of the
classroom, there was a colorful mezuzah. Normally a mezuzah is supposed to
be placed at the bottom of the top third of the doorpost. This one was
not. It was placed lower - at the bottom third of the doorpost. The
teachers explained to both my father and grandfather the reasoning for the
downward adjustment. "This way, the children will be able to reach the
mezuzah, and kiss it." My grandfather smiled. "We must not lower the
mezuzah, for the children to kiss it. Instead, we must raise the child, to
reach the mezuzah at its proper level. What we must do is put a stepstool
in order for the children to reach higher -- to the proper level of the
mezuzah! Raise the child at an early age to reach the height of the
mitzvah, instead of lowering the mitzvah to the child!"
The difference between the counting of the Levites and the rest of the
nation is very clear. The nation was, as a whole, counted "according to
their legions," the Levites were counted for their job of " guardians of
the charge of the sanctity." Though legions are counted at a fighting age,
our children, guardians of the sanctity of our nation, must be counted as
early as possible. The tribe of Levi represents our leadership. "Today,"
says Maimonides, "everyone who accepts Torah leadership is considered an
integral member of tribe of Levi!" For that mission, no child is too
young! Charged with the mission of guarding the sanctuary and preserving
the spirituality of the nation, we must lift the heads of our children,
imbuing them with finite goals and responsibilities, from their very first
moments of cognizance. We must raise them to the greatest height of
spirituality at the earliest age. Even if we need a stepstool!
Dedicated to the speedy healing of Hinda bas Gittel, Mrs. Henrietta Milstein
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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