Just as we are approaching Shavuot, we start the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. At the start of this parsha G-d tells Moses to conduct a census of all the 12 tribes; he ends up counting 603,550 men, not including the Levites. As they set up for camp, the Levite tribe assembled the Sanctuary in the center of the camp and put up their tents around it in a circle. Beyond the Levite circle, the twelve tribes camped in four groups of three tribes each. To the east were Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; to the south, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad; to the west, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; and to the north, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. This formation was kept also while traveling. Each tribe had its own nassi, a leader, and its own flag with its tribal color and emblem.
Rabbi Mirvis (current Chief Rabbi in the UK) says the following about what we are told in the parsha - to count the tribes by their ‘Bemispar Shemot’ or by the number of their names. What does it mean that they counted them by names? He brought the Ramban who explained that for each tribe, the members lined up and then they were introduced to the leaders of the nation and the tribe. A person would come along and say his name and then there would be a little bit of a conversation. And so, on all of these occasions, individuals felt important as a result of the leaders knowing who they were through their names. They had a relationship with them and those names were counted. So they were not counted by heads but by their names.
In these two commentaries of the Ramban, you actually find two different elements being highlighted. In the first commentary, what is important to us is the ‘Sach Hakol’, the total number of all the people. In the second commentary, what matters to us is the individual members of the nation, the people who make up that total figure.
Knowing this, you may ask, how can we apply this to our lives today? We can use this view on how we look at our final summative grades. We can either choose to look at the Sach Hakol of our grades in each subject or we can choose to focus on the individual grades that make up our Sach Hakol and see where we can improve. Similarly, we can apply this to our community, where we all make up a Sach Hakol, but the individuality of each individual helps make up the community.
Omer, Grade 9