Every ten years, the United States government conducts a census of the population. Thousands of census-takers visit every household in the nation to record the number of persons living there, their ages, and other statistical information.
Who conducts the count? High school students, unemployed and partially employed individuals—people with time on their hands or in need of a few extra dollars. This, after all, is work requiring no greater skills than knowing how to count and filling out a simple form. Of course, the data they gather is later analyzed by trained statisticians and other professionals; but the counting itself can, and is, done by virtually anyone.
Now to the Jewish perspective:
“And G-d spoke to Moses and to Elazar the son of Aaron the Priest, saying: “Count the heads of the entire community of Israel...”
-- Numbers 26:1-2
Three times in the forty years between the Exodus and Israel’s entry into the Holy Land, G-d instructed that a census be taken of the children of Israel. And who was instructed to conduct the count? Moses! Moses, who received the Torah from G-d at Sinai, whose mind was deemed equal to receiving the divine truth of truths and transmitting it to humanity; Moses, who sat every day, all day, from morning to evening, conducting the affairs of the nation and serving as their chief jurist and judge; Moses, the greatest teacher and prophet of all time, was instructed to go from tent to tent in the Israelite camp to tally how many individuals between the ages of 20 and 60 resided there.
Of course, no single individual could visit 600,000 households. Moses needed helpers. And who was appointed to assist him? Aaron, second in stature only to Moses, and, in the third count, conducted after Aaron’s passing, Aaron’s son Elazar, who succeeded his father as High Priest. And since the leader of Israel and the highest-ranking member of its priesthood required further assistance, who were they to enlist? The twelve nesi’im (princes), leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Counting numbers may be a relatively simple task. But when it is people who are being counted; when each number represents a unique and holy soul; it is a task that must be conducted with sensitivity, reverence and trepidation. It is a task that requires a Moses.
Based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Iyar 28, 5745 (May 19, 1985).