The Book of Be-midbar, which translates literally as “In the Wilderness,” is identified by our sages in Tractate Yoma as Humash ha-Pekudim (the Book of Numbers) because the people of Israel are counted at the beginning of the book as they prepare to leave Sinai, as well as 38 years later, as they undertake final preparations for entry into the Land of Promise. Be-midbar tells us of the organization of the camp around the portable sanctuary for protection of the Ark of the Covenant, the initiation of the mission and its delay for almost four decades, and the final push to enter the land.
The Hebrew root of pekudim has multiple meanings: to count, to appoint and to remember. It also implies that attention is being paid – that someone is mindful of something or someone else. In modern Hebrew, the term for census is mifkad and the word pekudah means a designation or command.
The census is more than an enumeration. It is also part of a process calling the people to responsibility and obligation. The recent study of Canadian Jewry indicates that we will soon become the second-largest community in the Diaspora, with approximately 392,000 Jews, most of whom live in just six metropolitan areas. The study reveals that Canadian Jews are remarkably cohesive, and more linked to Israel and Jewish life – through education, family ritual practices, membership in Jewish organizations, friendships and less intermarriage – than our American cousins.
In addition to enumeration, the study calls out to us to take responsibility to enable Jews to have significant educational and camping experiences. We are reminded that synagogues remain an important element of a communal strategy of engagement. We must be mindful to learn from the United States in order to embrace the most effective strategies to enhance Jewish life. In these and other ways, we can maintain the chain of tradition.