Take a census, this week’s Torah portion tells us. שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל — literally, “Lift up the heads of the community of the children of Israel.” Don’t just count them: uplift them. Let them feel in their hearts and know in their minds that they count.
Of course, the text goes on to specify who we should count: the men. We didn’t yet have consciousness of how limited — and limiting — that paradigm is for us and for the world. But the core teaching that every one of us counts is some powerful Torah.
Today we encounter these words as we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Before we can receive Torah tonight, we have to lift up our heads. We have to take an accounting of who we are.
We have to make sure we know that we all count: men and women and nonbinary folks, Jews by birth and Jews by choice and seekers of other traditions who walk alongside us. We have to take note of every one of us, in all of our multiplicity and diversity of experience and background and heart.
Tradition says that all of us were there at Sinai — the soul of every one of us, every Jew who ever was or ever will be. And since we know that a mixed multitude left Egypt with us, surely that mixed multitude stood together at Sinai too. Shavuot is our celebration of covenant with God, and every one of us is part of that covenant. If even one soul had been missing, it wouldn’t have been complete. We all count.
Three members of this community formally joined the Jewish people yesterday. [Here’s where I was going to say some things about that, connecting them to the Torah portion – but that part was personal and is not being published online.] As of this weekend they count in a minyan: another form of counting and being counted.
Does the concept of counting ring any other bells for you right now? For seven weeks we’ve been counting days, ever since the second seder. Tonight that count culminates in revelation. Today is the final day of the Omer. According to our mystics, today is the day of Malchut She’b’Malchut — the day of immanent indwelling feminine divine Presence; the day of Shechina.
May we be suffused with awareness of holy Presence as we prepare ourselves to receive. May we prepare ourselves to be sanctuaries — so that Shechina can dwell with us, and among us, and within us, now and always.
This is (more or less) the d’varling I had intended to offer this morning at Shabbat services on our Hudson Valley Shavuot Retreat, had the camp not canceled the retreat. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)