Drash on Parashat B'midbar
Rabbi Benjamin Meijer Vergrugge
United Indonesian Jewish Community
On Mt Sinai, God instructed Moshe to take a census of the 12 tribes of Israel. The census is to be of all Israelite males over the age of 20 (Num. 1:1-46).
The important lessons here are two-fold:
1. COUNTING EVERY SINGLE JEW.
God sees every single Jew as a precious asset that belongs to the Jewish family. Each Jew is worthy of being counted carefully, and no Jew is left out. Every Jew regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, social, education and economic status and cultural background deserves to be welcomed equally. Even moral standards will never be an excuse to be discriminated against. In the census, Moses noted down the names of each and every person counted.
I believe the “counting” work of Moshe Rabbenu has been passed to us Jewish rabbis, Jewish leaders and laypeople. Our duty is to provide a home community for any kind of Jew regardless their background, condition and situation.
As a local rabbi and a psychotherapist, I have noted four basic psychological needs for any member of Jewish communities:
a) Members needs LOVE. More specifically, they need TO BE LOVED.
We don’t know what the story is of new members who attend services and/or meetings until we ask. Many likely come with trauma, conflicts or problems, and they need a place to shelter. I believe that the majority of people come to synagogue to be gathered under the wings of God. It is not appropriate for us to judge people's morality and to treat some member with discrimination. Love new members, and remind them that they are part of your Jewish family.
b) Every member needs TO BE WELCOMED and ACCEPTED.
People come and go from synagogues. Some do not come back. The reason they leave the group is because they feel they are not warmly welcomed. Nobody greets them, and no one has the time to talk and listen to them. Nobody says “We look forward to seeing you next Shabbat," and as a result, they feel they don’t belong to the community. Discrimination is also a problem, especially for Jews who are not white. I was shocked when an Israeli rabbi suggested to me and my wife that we probably wouldn’t fit in to his Ashkenazi synagogue because of our Asian appearance! I didn’t listen to him as the Jewish world has to change!
c) Every member needs awareness of SELF POTENCY (FEELING IMPORTANT).
A person will not be motivated to continue living if there is no reason to continue. Life will be more exciting knowing one has an important role in life for God and for others. In my experiences of teaching, educating and training laypeople for my local Jewish community, I have discovered that women, teenagers, and others who may be overlooked have a lot of hidden potential in the community. Training them to participate in Shabbat, life cycles and high holidays rituals brings community activities to life. Even after completing their training, I have found they are more effective in para rabbi work than I am, and they want to do more and more to be important assets in their Jewish community.
2. THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IS ONE MISHPACHA WITH UNIQUENESS.
After counting every single Jew as God's valuable asset, even the duties of the Levites, who are not included in the census, are still detailed. (Num. 1:47-51). Each tribe is assigned specific places in the camp around the Tabernacle. (Num. 1:52-2:34). I underline the word “detailed”. These details show the characteristics of uniqueness in Jewish community or family before they received Torah. The Levites count as much as the others who are included in the census.
God counts Jews even where “no man can live” (Jer 2:6). It indicates that Torah should be embraced with no preconception or ulterior motives. Embracing the faith and tradition exclusively does not mean that there is no room for folk/local tradition to be embraced to be a part of a the uniqueness of Judaism. I believe we still have a duty to lift up local traditions to higher position by making it as a part of Jewish community’s uniqueness.
Thank you (terima kasih) to Ibu Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky for her assistance with editing.