Everybody and their actions, small and large, count


Rabbi Josef Davidson (center) with Gary Myers (left) and Liessa Alperin at Congregation B’nai Amoona’s recent Mitzvah Day, where Rabbi Davidson was recognized. Photo: Bill Motchan


It’s difficult to imagine that anyone dreams of becoming a census taker, of going door to door counting the number of inhabitants and recording their ages, their genders, their relationships, and then counting the number of rooms in their homes, even down to the specific number of bathrooms, and whether it is owned or leased by those in the residence. Then there is the matter of each person’s occupation.


However, the fourth book of the Torah, B’midbar, begins with a census that is not quite as detailed as that taken every 10 years by the U.S. Census Bureau but tedious nevertheless. The English name for this book, Numbers, is well earned. People are counted; offerings are counted; objects are counted, all over a span of 38 years, with listings of each place the people stopped along the way to the Promised Land.

To dismiss this Torah portion, also called B’midbar, as a mere exercise in counting is to do it a great disservice. Though this first portion is strictly about taking a count of everyone in the camp, it is not just chapters of numbers.


I was recently honored by Congregation B’nai Amoona with the honorific “Mitzvah Mensch of the Year” because, in my retirement from the active rabbinate, I have volunteered my skills, knowledge and talents to the congregation and community at large.

It was nice to be honored for such things as riding along with Ballwin police officers each week, for playing in a community band, for being one of the minyan necessary for daily services, for chanting Torah and Haftarah when needed, for delivering short Divrei Torah/Haftarah, for helping to prepare the weekly Shabbat Kiddush Lunch, for being one of the servers of that meal, and for providing backup to the members of Klei Kodesh (rabbi/cantor) when asked.

There is nothing flashy here, nor do these activities keep me busier than when I practiced my rabbinate.

The primary reason for Mitzvah Day is to bring together ordinary people and provide them with ordinary opportunities to make our community a better place: from preparing meals that can be taken to shut-ins to making blankets that can warm up children who are in the hospital, form signing up to be a bone marrow donor to a myriad of other activities that contribute to the repair of our world in some small way. I didn’t count the house (I leave that to people who enjoy taking a census more than I do), but everyone who showed up counted.

The reason for the census in the wilderness was not only to have an accurate count of the people. It was also to ascertain upon whom the group could count in various situations they might encounter along the way. While heads of tribes are mentioned by name, the real work is accomplished by the nameless individuals who were counted.

On whom could the people count for defense? For the wisdom of age? How many needed some type of care and protection? Who was available to fill all the roles necessary for the people to be able make this journey?

As we read this account of the census as well as other accounts in the weeks ahead, we are aware that it is not just an exercise in census taking but an opportunity for everyone to count as one upon whom others can count. Our Torah portion reminds us of the importance of each and every ordinary act that we perform, no matter how ordinary it may seem. It reminds us of the infinite worth of each and every individual. It reminds us to be people on whom others may count.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Josef Davidson is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association and though retired from the active rabbinate, remains an active member of Congregation B’nai Amoona.