Priorities/Perception (Parshah Bamidbar)

Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0

At the end of an important entrance examination one of the students is still writing way after the examiner has announced that time is up. The examiner notices this and when the student arrives at his desk to hand in the paper he tells him very clearly that he has failed the exam. There is silence for a moment, and then the student yells at the examiner: “Do you know who I am?” to which the examiner replies, “No, nor do I wish to – do you think that would make any difference?” The student quickly places his paper in the middle of the pile of papers, and with a big grin replies, “makes a big difference to me!”

There was a fascinating article this week in the Irish Times about schools and teachers in Finland. Finland is widely regarded as having the best educational system in the world, and the article looked at the reasons for this, with fascinating results: It seems that even though teachers’ salaries in Finland are at the EU average, and classroom resources are about the same or less than other European countries, the big difference in the perception of the place of teachers in society. Teachers in Finland are regarded as the elite of society, la crème de la crème. When Finnish teenagers are polled about their career choice, teaching and medicine will invariably top the list. When Finnish men were questioned about a preferred career for their spouse, most chose teaching. Compare that with the way teachers are regarded here in Ireland or in most other EU countries. It is all a matter of perception, and because teaching is highly regarded, there is lots of competition for teaching positions, the best teachers are selected and the results are clear for all to see – a top level education system.

Sadly, sometimes it takes a crisis or a tragedy to radically change our perception of  life. A good example is Israeli society which is always fractured and fractious. Yet as soon as a national crisis arrives, a test of survival, everyone pulls together as equals, because your blood is no redder than mine.

Just this last week we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim, remembered the miracles G-d wrought for us during the Six Day War, including the miraculous reclaiming of our holy city of Jerusalem. Look at the footage and images from back then and you will see men, women and children of every walk of life, Jews and gentiles, religious and secular, sefardim and ashkenazim, all working together as one unit to protect their homeland, digging trenches, filling sandbags etc. Because when we are in danger, our perception of what is important changes. All the small issues which may divide us become irrelevant and pale away in the face of the truly important things in life:  life, health and family.

In this week’s parsha we are again given an interesting lesson in perception.

G-d tells Moshe to take a census of the people. Now normally a census does not take into account the details of the person who is being counted. They are just a single unit, one number more than before, and this is reflected by the way a modern census it taken. Who goes door to door counting the people: not the government officials or members of Parliament! They only do that at election time. Those who take the census are simply those who have time, whether they are retired or unemployed.  For all they need to do is count, one person equals one unit.

Yet something strange appears in this week’s parsha: The census in this parsha is done by Moshe and Aaron & the 12 tribe leaders! Why – did they have no menial staff to do this for them? Was there nobody unemployed or retired? Surely these great leaders had more important matters to attend to?

Yet the message here is a beautiful one: The reason Moshe and Aaron themselves take the census, along with the leaders of the 12 tribes, is to teach a powerful lesson. Even though we might perceive that other people are just numbers, just units of little importance, that is far from the truth. G-d wanted Moshe and Aaron to visit every individual because every single one of them was valuable. Every single one. They are not just numbers on a sheet of paper – they are unique individuals with a mission on this earth. G-d does not create us without a reason. Each and every one of us has a unique mission to fulfil. And so it was the leaders of the nation who went to visit, tent by tent and person by person – to correct that perception that some may be less important than others.

This is the message we can take from the Torah this week. Every single one of us is infinitely precious, a unique G-dly creation.  Yet there are people we may pass every day, we may see them every week in shul – without knowing the slightest thing about them. We may perceive them in a certain way, but we definitely do not know of their interests, their joy or their pain. We do not know of their skills or talents, their passions or their hobbies.

So let us change our perception of those around us, and see the world from a G-dly point of view, where every individual really is precious and important. Let us try to get to know one another a little better, to be involved in one another’s lives, to rejoice in each other’s simchas and to support one another in times of pain.

Let us learn from Moshe and Aaron, to seek out those who are sick or elderly, tired or disillusioned, or just plain lonely – and let us show them they truly count. Show them that we care about them and that G-d cares about them – and that is not just perception – that is the truth!

Rabbi Zalman Lent

Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0