Twenty to Sixty Something
Six Hundred and five thousand three hundred and fifty men between the ages
of twenty and sixty, not including the tribe of Layvie, prepared to leave
Mt. Sinai and advance destiny into the messianic age. Why just men? What
happened to the women? Why just between twenty and sixty? Wars have always
been fought by the youth. Is there a qualitative difference between a
twenty year old and a nineteen year old? How about the above sixty lobby?
Given a world where centurions were seemingly commonplace, sixty was
barely middle age! How about the benefits of their seasoned years and
experience? Why eliminate such a valuable resource in advancing the
destiny of the nation and the world?
Furthermore, what about the whole Ayin Harah (evil-eye) thing regarding
not counting people? In Shemos (Exodus) G-d commanded Moshe to use the
half-shekel to count the Jews. A year later Moshe is doing a direct head-
count. Why the difference in methods of census taking between the time
they first left Egypt and this week’s Parsha? Finally, why separate the
tribe of Layvie from the national census, and why were they counted from
the tender age of 30 days old?
First of all, I would like to dispense with the chauvinistic bit. The
traditional 600,000 desert count is often referenced as proof of Judaism’s
prejudiced attitude toward women. Of course, nothing could be farther from
the truth; however, a full response to that general criticism of G-d,
Torah, Halacha (Jewsih law), and Chazal (The Rabbis) is not the focus of
this issue. With G-d’s help I will have the opportunity to present a full
treatment of gender equality in Torah and Halacha at some later date. For
now, let me point out that the 600,000 count of men between twenty and
sixty proves the very opposite. Had the census been of men of all ages and
not women the argument might have some merit; however, the fact that men
younger than twenty and older than sixty were also not included in the
national census proves that age and not gender was the critical factor.
The first Rashi in this week’s Parsha details G-d’s reason for demanding
the census. (1:1) “G-d counted the Jewish people at specific intervals
because of His love for them. At the time of the Exodus He counted them.
Following the Golden Calf and its consequences He counted the survivors.
In this week’s Parsha, as G-d prepared to rest His presence upon the
nation, a month after the dedication of the Mishkan, He counted them
Obviously, the counting had nothing to do with G-d’s need to know how many
Jews there were. Without the census G-d always knows exactly how many Jews
there are. The counting was for our sake. The counting was to teach us
that we are individually valued and cherished.
Simply put, G-d counted the Jewish people because He loved them. It is
analogous to a stamp or coin collector lovingly pouring over his
collection viewing and appreciating every theme, texture, shape, and
color. Likewise, G-d cherishes every one of His children and continuously
counts them showing His love for the individual Jew and the collective
whole of the nation.
What is G-d’s love? Rashi explained that each of the censuses reflected G-
d’s love for the Jewish people. What aspect of “love” was Rashi referring
to? Is it possible to say that G-d loves Jews more than non-Jews? Does G-d
emote or does He judge? Is there an emotional component to the way G-d
manages His world, or, are all decisions based on the exact balance
between good and bad, punishment and reward?
To suggest that G-d rules His universe on the basis of subjective emotion
rather than objective evaluation is to limit G-d and render Him as all
other non-gods. To suggest that G-d loves Jews more than non-Jews remakes
G-d in the limited image of human mortality and fallibility. Our G-d, the
G-d-Creator and Ruler must be unlimited and supremely judicious. How G-d
factors compassion and forgiveness into the equation of justice is a
feature of His all-knowing timelessness. As time-bound creations we are
forced to accept and believe that which we can not possibly imitate or
understand. However, G-d’s “love” for the Jewish people cannot be
True love is the by-product of caring, giving, and responsibility. G-d
loves us and the rest of humanity because He cares, gives, and is
responsible for all of us. However, whether or not we love Him back is
equally dependent on the degree of our willful devotion to doing the same
as G-d does. Giving back to G-d means caring, giving, and taking
responsibility for G-d’s world. Avraham and Sarah’s monumental love for G-
d was perfectly reflected in their love for humanity. They loved G-d,
wanted to be like G-d, and therefore undertook to care for humanity by
sharing their knowledge of G-d and G-d’s love with anyone and everyone.
G-d rewarded Avraham and Sarah by designating their children as
his “kingdom of priests and holy nation.” They would be the ones through
whom “the families of earth would be blessed.” Their children, the future
nation of Israel, would also show their love for G-d by emulating G-d and
His love. They would care, give, and be responsible for teaching the other
nations what it meant to be loved by G-d.
The meaning of G-d’s love for the Jewish people is that G-d judiciously
concluded that the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov would carry on
the work of their forefathers. However, to do so the family of Yakov would
have to become the nation of Israel and the nation of Israel would have to
always remain the family of Yakov.
The basic unit of humanity is not the individual. The first human created,
Adam, was singular and alone; yet, G-d concluded, “It is not good for Adam
to be singular and alone.” Instead, G-d separated Adam into the two equal
components of Adam and Chava, male and female. In essence, G-d established
the family, not the individual, as the basic unit of humanity.
(Note: The thematic relationship of the Sheva Berachos (7 blessings
recited at a Jewish wedding) to Gan Eden and the creation of Adam and
When G-d proclaimed Avraham’s uniqueness in the world He said, “And the
families of the earth will be blessed through you and your children.” G-d
spoke of families, not individuals. In this week’s Parsha G-d commanded
Moshe to count, (1:2) “?The ent
G-d did not intend singles to be His teachers. He expected single males
and females to train from the early years of their individualhood and
ready themselves to marry and become families. As family, as the basic
unit of husband and wife, they could effectively teach others the meaning
of responsibility, giving, caring, and love. However, there is more to
family than husband and wife.
The verse in Divarim (Deuteronomy) (4:9-10) says, “?Mak
The concept of family is three generations: Grandparents, Parents, and
Children. The basic unit of humanity is three generations, not one. Family
means continuity. Family means the conveyance of traditions and values
from generation to generation. Family means children learning from
parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins. To quote my
Father Shlit’a, “Family is G-d’s syringe for injecting values into the
body of humanity.”
At each census, in the desert as well as the yearly census of the half-
shekel for the purchase of Korbanos Tzibur (public offerings), G-d
lovingly counted the unit best suited for emulating His love and doing His
work. At each census, G-d commanded that families be counted, not
individuals. At each census, G-d numbered actual and potential families of
three generations, Grandparents, Parents, and Children. Therefore, G-d
only counted males between the ages of twenty and sixty. Twenty is the
traditional age of maturity and responsibility. Twenty represents the age
of marriage and parenthood.
Twenty years after marriage, children are themselves marrying and entering
parenthood while their parents are entering grandparenthood. Twenty years
later, at the age of sixty, grandchildren are marrying and entering
parenthood, parents are entering grandparenthood, and grandparents are
entering the patriarchal years of nachas (joy and pleasure) as they
realize and enjoy the continuity of their familial successes and
Censuses have nothing to do with gender or age. The Torah’s count has only
to do with numbering G-d’s “kingdom of Kohanim and holy nation.”
Therefore, Hashem commanded Moshe to count the basic unit of the three
generational family ? the twenty to sixty someth
With G-d’s help, next week I will continue the discussion of the Torah’s
census and answer the remaining questions.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.