Uncountable People (Lech Lecha)
Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. –Jacob Bronowski
God communicates with Abraham. God tells Abraham, who at the time was old and childless, that his progeny will be as uncountable as the dust of the earth, as the stars in the heavens. To further deepen the wonder of God’s promise to Abraham, the Midrash recounts that among Abraham’s many amazing attributes and capabilities was the fact that he was one of the greatest astrologers that ever lived. He knew how to read a person’s destiny based on the movement of the planets through the constellations. When he sought his own astrological prognosis, he saw that he would remain childless.
The Midrash continues the conversation with God telling Abraham to look beyond the astrology, beyond the stars, for his destiny and that of the future people of Israel is not tied to this physical, visually-perceived world. Jews, from their very inception, are beyond nature, above physical laws.
The Berdichever, in his commentary on the phrase, “if a man were able to count the dust of the earth, so too, would your progeny be counted,” recalls that there is a Torah prohibition against directly counting the nation of Israel. When a census was done, the counting was done indirectly, using a coin for each person. To this day, when we want to determine if there are ten men, the minimum for a Minyan (a prayer quorum), we are prohibited to count the people directly (i.e. we don’t count 1, 2, 3, etc.). The classic way is to recite words from a verse that we know contains ten words.
The Berdichever elaborates that not only are we prohibited from counting Jews, but that more fundamentally, it is impossible to count Jews. Israel as a whole, and its component members individually, are beyond understanding, beyond rational grasp. How can you count something that you don’t understand, that you can’t comprehend? What is the meaning of numbering an entity or entities that are beyond our perception?
In some deep sense, we are as numerous and as uncountable as the dust of the earth and as the stars in the universe.
Because Israel can’t be understood in our world, in our reality, even Abraham, the great astrologer, can’t see his or our destiny in the constellations. We are not limited by our physical reality. We’re beyond that. We’re physically unknowable; essentially uncountable; spiritually limitless.
To the upcoming Mayoral elections throughout Israel. Every vote counts.