Taste of Torah
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Dcember 6th, 2013
Count Yourself in the Community
Torah Portion: Genesis 44:18-47:27
Special Haftarah Portion for Chanukah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
"One... One Bat! Ah HA HA! Two... Two Bats! AH HA HA! Three... Three Bats! Ah HA HA!" In the 1970s, Sesame Street unveiled a character known as the numbers-obsessed Count Von Count. The Count, as he is sometimes called, completes simple arithmetic, adding up objects to his cold-heart's delight. Initially a minor character introduced a few years into the show's creation, the Count made his way up the ladder of popularity and into the hearts of children, currently featured with a number of the day.
Turning to the pages of our Torah portion, Vayigash, there are some numbers that would probably co(u)n(t)found or co(u)n(t)fuse our lovable puppet-mathematician. After the great reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, the Torah catalogs all, "the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his descendants, as they came down to Egypt."[i] The Torah not only gives us the names, it gives us numbers, with the tally being both 66 and 70 people.[ii] What?! The Count would tell you, that if we do the math correctly, those numbers add up to 70, not 66![iii] The Count, however, only takes into account literal numbers and does not acknowledge the significance of symbolic numbers. The Torah and the Rabbis went to great lengths to reach the number 70 because they knew it holds great meaning. To understand how, we need to break it down into parts. Just as the Count tells us a number of the day, the Torah tells us a "number of the portion."
Since 70 is comprised of the numbers seven and ten, we begin by investigating their individual meanings. The value of seven holds significance in several ways, the greatest of which relates to the seven days of creation.[iv]. After six days of labor, God rested on the seventh day. This number signifies wholeness and divine completion. Our other value, ten, also represents various important concepts in Judaism.[v] Most prevalent for our purposes is that ten persons are required to make a minyan. Ten people are the minimum number of people to create a community. When these two numbers are combined, it tells us something extra-special. 70 represents the entire community being whole and complete. The Rabbis worked hard to reach the number 70 because they understood that if the Torah did not reach that number, if it is incomplete by just one number, 69, then the community cannot flourish.
In the midrash, the Rabbis attempt to determine just who exactly was the last person to be added, who was the missing link to jump the community up from 69 to 70 persons. I think this person is the Count's equivalent in the Torah portion - Joseph! The root of Joseph's name, yud-samech-fay, means "add, increase, or... count" Without the addition of Joseph, Jacob's family and life are incomplete. If Joseph chose to subtract, or separate himself, from the community, it is left incomplete. This is where our sages came up with the concept of al tifrosh min hatzibur, "do not separate yourself from the community."[vi] Joseph had the ability to see that while he was treated unfairly, the whole nation of Israel could only be a complete community when he chose to reveal and reconcile with his brothers.
Just as we can see how important Count Von Count's presence is to the Sesame Street lineup, so too can we see how Joseph's presence drastically improved the outcome of the community's history. This tells us that when we find ourselves at odds with someone within our community, we attempt to continue to participate so our greater-family can be complete. Whether we are Joseph, having been wronged, or we are his brothers, and we have done wrong, we are reminded that our community is much stronger when we are together. Joseph, and the number 70, reminds us that our community needs our contribution in order to be complete. If we can count the ways in which we enhance the lives of those around us, we might be able to have a sunny day, sweep the clouds away, and reach a place where not only the air is sweet, but the community relationships are as well.
May you have a Sabbath of peace!
Rabbi Matt Dreffin
Director of Rabbinic Services
Please share this message with family and friends, especially those who do not have access to email, and when your congregation gathers for services I invite you to read this Taste of Torah from the bima. As always, please be in touch. I'd particularly appreciate hearing about simchahs, moments of joy, [i.e. births, birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, graduations] or illnesses or other challenges in your family or community.
[ii] 33 persons, 16 persons, 14 persons, and 7 persons found in Genesis 46:14, 18, 22, 25
[iii] The arithmetic in this section is so confusing that other versions of the text actually list the total number at 75.Both the Greek Septuagint and the Exodus Qumran text list this at 75 persons. Baumgartner, W. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997), 77.
[iv] 7 days in a week, 7 Noahide laws, every 7th year is a sabbatical year, every 7 cycles of sabbatical years is the Jubilee year,7 days in Sukkot and Passover, and 7 branches of the menorah in the Temple.
[v] 10 Commandments, 10 Days of Repentance, number of persons required for a minyan, 10 plagues, and more!
[vi] Pir'kei Avot 2:5