by Rabbi Heidi Cohen
I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. In just the past couple of weeks, I have been honored to help families give seven children Hebrew names! This must be a record! One family of three, one set of triplets and a baby boy. But still, to offer seven Hebrew names in such a short time, awesome! These are the names that each of them will be called upon when they are called to Torah; these are the names that they will sign the ketubah; these are the names that God and Israel know them by as they perform acts of loving kindness in making our world a better place.
Parashat B’midbar is an accounting of the people who were in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt. We are gathered together and God instructs Moses to take a census of all the tribes. The tribal leaders come forward by name and share the count of those who are with them. While the count only includes the men, we know the women stood there with them and today, that count would be very different, very inclusive. But why count? The numbers are great! 603,550 men – again, include the women and children and you have a whole new number!
This great number marks stability amongst the Israelites. They are so great in number that they are not going away, no matter how much some of the surrounding nations wish they would. The people are flooding the desert like a great river flowing through a canyon. They extend for miles, as far as the eye can see. Truly, the Israelites are a stable and growing nation.
We too are growing, we welcome new children and people into our community at all times. There is stability within the count of the Jewish people. And how appropriate it is that we read this portion the Shabbat prior to Shavuot, the holy day during which we celebrate when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. We are taught that every Jewish soul who lived then and who was yet to be born but would be a part of the Jewish people (born into and those who choose Judaism) stood at the mountain together. All of us, together, in the shadow of a great mountain and with the potential of what is yet to even be fully realized.
We are still at that mountain and we still receive Torah today. While the words might be fixed on the parchment they are still fluid in understanding and inspiration. It is each of us, called by name, who are responsible for reading, embracing and sharing these words of Torah. It is each of us who are called by name to hold these words and the traditions shared by each generation, given to us, and then share them with the next generation. It is each of us, called by our name who are to stand up when called, be counted as a part of the Jewish people, and know that the gift we are given in our names is a precious one, one that should not be forgotten, for every name, every person, is a blessing.