Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Stand up and be counted!

46,500. That’s how many were in the tribe of Reuven. 59,300. That was the tally of the tribe of Shimon.

Why is this relevant? Why does the Torah spend the time to tell us the tally of each tribe? Oh, and the total? That was 603,550. Okay, fine. Now what? How do these numbers impact my life? Isn’t the Torah a guidebook for life? For my life, here and now. Most of the tribes don’t even exist nowadays!

Counting is a unique equalizer. The numbers don’t describe the individuals who were counted. The scholars and leaders get counted together with the simple people. Each person is counted equally.

And this is an important lesson. We often convince ourselves that our actions are not important. Whether we participate or not, who cares? Here we see that each individual is important. Each one of us has to stand up and be counted.

The solution to the clock conundrum

The village clock towered above the marketplace in the center of town. Everyone would adjust their personal watch to the time displayed on the clock. Perched high above their heads, the villagers would have to crane their neck to be able to see the time. During the late afternoon, the setting sun would blind them as they tried to make out the hand on the clock.

Complaints grew into grumbling, grumbling turned to anger and soon the town council was discussing The Clock issue at their weekly meeting. They came to a decision: the clock would be repositioned at a lower level.

No sooner was the change implemented and The Clock issue was back on the table. Only this time it was different problem: The clock was constantly breaking down. A commission was empowered to investigate the cause of the latest clock conundrum.

Their findings: when the clock was positioned at the top of the tower, everyone would adjust their personal watches according to the time that the clock displayed. Now that the clock was lower, everyone adjusted the clock to the time on their personal watch. Naturally, after numerous changes a day, the clock would break.

Society’s morals and values must be based on the immutable, G-d given code, the Torah. We have to adjust our limited perception of right and wrong to the timeless perspective of G-d. If not, if our morals and values are based on our feelings; if our standards are based on the mood of the times or the latest poll numbers, society will ultimately break down.

How are we still here?

How is your Jewish trivia?

You may have heard of the law of a non-kosher food being nullified by a ratio of 60:1. (If a non-kosher food item gets mixed in with kosher food, and the amount of kosher food is 60 times the amount of the non-kosher food, in certain situations, that mixture may still be considered kosher). In regard to judges too, we know that the Torah mandates to “follow the majority.” Truthfully, this is how it works in all areas of life – the smaller, less influential group or idea invariably gets assimilated into the larger and more dominant group.

For thousands of years, we Jews have been living impossibly, bucking the trend and changing nature by remaining faithful to our heritage and not getting swallowed by the rest of the world. We are overwhelmingly outnumbered! Were we to follow the logic and the law mentioned above, we would not be here.

So what is our secret? As always, there are exceptions to the rule.

Here’s another Jewish trivia fact: The Torah prohibits eating the fruit of a tree for the first three tears after planting it (it’s in this week’s Torah portion, Leviticus 19:23). The nullification factor in this case is 200:1 but – here’s the caveat – it’s only after the fruit has been harvested. For example, you have only one tree within its first three years (and therefore its fruit is forbidden) and 250 that are older (and therefore their fruit are permitted to be eaten). In this case there is no nullification for the fruit of the lone tree – because they are still attached to the tree. Once the fruit has been picked it's possible for them to get nullified, but not when they are attached.

So too with the Jewish people, we have a Jewish soul that is attached to Hashem, we are rooted – therefore no matter the odds, we can never become assimilated and nullified.

The challenge is not to keep these roots hidden under ground but to let them nourish our branches and our fruit! We need to express our Jewish selves, and then we can be truly comfortable in our own skin.

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