This post is part of a weekly series of Torah commentaries presented by the American Jewish World Service. It was contributed by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster.
At the beginning of Parshat Bamidbar, God asks Moses to “take a census of the whole Israelite community” ((Numbers 1:2.)) in the desert as a prelude to the people’s eventual entry into the Land of Israel: The Hebrew word for community, edah, is most often used to mean the entire nation; ((Milgrom, Jacob. The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers. The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1989, p. 4, comment on Numbers 1:2.)) but here, rather than serving as a comprehensive detailing of the entire people, the census has a narrow focus. Those to be counted are “every male…from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms.” ((Numbers 1:2-3.)) The snapshot of the Israelites that Moses is being asked to take includes only those adult males who can serve in the army. Everyone else just doesn’t count.