Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
After we have completed the step of Hallel, singing the praises of Hashem,
at the Seder, we move on to the final step - Nirtza. We begin Nirtza,
which is composed of various songs, with a declaration and a request:
"The order of the Pesach service is now completed in accordance with its
laws, with all its ordinances and statutes. Just as we were worthy to
conduct this order, so too may we merit performing it in the future. Pure
One, who dwells up high, raise up the congregation that is without number.
Soon, lead the offshoots of that which you have planted, redeemed, to
Zion, with rejoicing."
In this passage from the Hagada liturgy, we see that the nation of Israel
is referred to as a "congregation . . . without number." In different
places in the Torah, we find metaphorical references to the size of the
nation of Israel, such as "like the stars of the heavens," or "the sands
of the sea shores." Here, in the conclusion of the Seder evening, a
similar expression is used in the liturgy; " the congregation that is
The Divrei Chaim (Shekalim 48a) explains that there are different ways of
being "without number." In Hoshea (2:1), the verse states "And the number
of the people of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be
measured nor counted." The Talmud (Yoma 22b) highlights an inconsistency
in this verse: The verse starts "the number of the children of Israel
shall be as the sand of the sea." (The sands of the sea are a finite
quantity. They can be counted, although doing such may take a very long
time.) and it is also written: 'Which cannot be numbered? (which implies
that the number is infinite)." This is no contradiction: Here, it speaks
of the time when Israel fulfils the will of Hashem, there of the time when
they do not fulfill His will."
The Divrei Chaim is troubled by the answer given by the Talmud. One would
think that when the nation of Israel is listening to the word of G-d, they
are, at that time, in the status of "cannot be counted." Because of the
nation's adherence to the word of G-d, they merit being of great number.
Conversely, when the nation of Israel does not listen to G-d, one would
think the nation would not be bestowed the blessing of "not being
numbered," but rather be in the "mere" status of "being as the sand of the
sea." However, the Talmud says just the opposite!
In truth, counting can occur in different scenarios. A person can have a
pile of money before him, and the individual counts the entire sum, so
that he arrives at a total of the measure of currency before him. On the
other hand, a person can have a variety of items of value before him. He
can have gold, silver, rubies, diamonds and other precious items. He can
then count how many different items he has before him. When the nation of
Israel is listening to the word of G-d, it is like the counting of money,
the counting of grains of sand. The entire nation is united, of like heart
and soul. Counting such individuals is like counting sand. The verse does
not mean to imply that this number is necessarily finite. Rather, it means
that a single commodity is being counted. However, when the nation does
not listen to Hashem, it is like counting numerous commodities. There is
no unity or togetherness, and the count is made difficult because of the
large amount of different items needing counting. This is a group
that "cannot be counted."
At the end of the Seder, we state how we have all just completed the
Seder. All in the nation of Israel have gone through the same process of
recalling the exodus from Egypt. We have all eaten our matzo and maror. We
have had our four cups of wine. At this moment in time, we are a
congregation, a group - but not just any congregation. We are
a "congregation that is without number!" We are a congregation that, just
like grains of sand on a beach, is together, of like heart and soul,
united in our devotion to G-d. We ask G-d that He should lead this
congregation without number out of exile, and into the rebuilt Jerusalem.
After the Seder has concluded, it is up to us to make sure that we remain
a "congregation, without number," so that we can indeed see the end of our
exile arrive speedily.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.