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 The count of the Jewish people that appears in this week's Torah reading occurs after a long string of unpleasant incidents and tragedies in this final period of their sojourn in the Sinai desert. The simple understanding of this sequence of events and subsequent count of the people is that after so many had died in the desert; Moshe had to have an accurate number of the Jewish people before their entry into the Land of Israel.

But on deeper reflection, it is possible to see a more subtle message that is very relevant to our times and circumstances. It is easy, almost understandable, for people – nations and individuals – to lose heart after a series of reverses and tragedies occur. There arises a feeling of helplessness, frustration and eventual surrender to the unpleasant realities that surrounded them…. and continue to surround them. There is an inner human voice that always whispers: “What is the use of going on and continuing to struggle, or even of living itself?”
Despondency reigns supreme in the human psyche. It is no accident that depression, unfortunately, is such a widespread clinical disease in the Western world today. For after all, life is complicated and laden with intractable problems and issues. We find it so much easier to memorialize the dead than to inspire and consecrate the living.
The Torah comes to concentrate once more on the numbers of the living; the generation that did not perish in the desert and would conquer and inherit its promised homeland, against all odds and many enemies. It is for that reason that Moshe counts the Jewish people now after all of the difficulties in the desert, in order to assert that the task is to concentrate on the future and not wallow in the misfortunes of the past.
The Jewish people, and in fact many nations of the world, invested greatly in memorializing the Holocaust and its victims. But even the recently departed great memorializer of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, told me in Miami Beach fifty years ago that the Holocaust and its memories, museums, literature and academic disciplines would be of value only if it helped build a stronger and more vital and committed Jewish people.
As important as memory is – and it certainly is very important – it alone would not guarantee Jewish survival in the future. After the Holocaust the task of the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the nascent Jewish state of Israel was to somehow rebuild and revitalize itself; to disperse the clouds of pessimism which engulfed us and to infuse the Jewish people with a can-do spirit that would carry them forward.
We, like our ancestors in the desert, were reeling from the tragedy and destruction that surrounded us. Like they, we also wailed: “Is there no end to our dying?” But by counting on the will of the survivors of Israel – every one of whom counts and is counted – the mood changed and our future became brighter than ever imagined before. This is a profound lesson that the Torah teaches us in this week's parsha.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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