Shem miShmuel points out that the counting in the census was done according to "family, father’s house, and each individual". [Num. 1:2] If we have to know how many men there are, it’s not necessary to count each and every one of them. It is sufficient to ask the leaders and heads of household how many members are in each family, and add all the numbers together. The fact that the Torah would insist on counting every individual indicates that a special principle was at work here.

In fact, that principle is similar to one that will be employed in the future when all the Jews will return to Israel. At that time, Rashi tells us that G‑d will take every single person by the hand and lead him or her to the Holy Land. The same thing happened here also as the Jews were about to enter the Holy Land from Egypt.

...the Land of Israel unites the Jewish people.

It is true that the Land of Israel unites the Jewish people. However, not every Jew deserves to live in it. The purpose of counting everyone was in order to determine if he was refined and spiritually-oriented enough to live in the land. Eretz Yisrael, as we saw in Parashat Achrei Mot, "vomits out" those who don’t follow the commandments. Therefore, it was necessary to count every individual Jew, in order to see if he deserved to be included under the "banner" of the Jews in Israel.

While it was necessary to examine each individual, it was also necessary that the Jews act as a unit when entering the land. Shem miShmuel mentions a mystical concept involving the number seven. In the Promised Land, the Jews would have to defeat seven Canaanite nations. Seven, in the realm of the inner dimensions of Torah, represents a level of completion and totality. For example, in the dimension of time, there are seven days to the cycle of creation, six days in which G‑d created, and Shabbat which serves as the source of blessings for all of the days. And in the dimension of space, there are six directions (up and down, forward and backward, right and left), and seventh, central point which gives them reference and unites them.

The seven Canaanite nations also constituted an entity in their own right. They were not a holy entity, being idol worshippers, but by virtue of being seven, they possessed an impure power of unity. In order to deal with this impure power and defeat it, it was necessary that the Jews themselves unite. Only then would they possess the power to defeat the Canaanite nations.

The counting of the Jews turned them into a cohesive whole. That is why, in addition to counting the individuals, the Torah mentions larger groups: "the family, and the father’s house." This was in order to impart to the Jews a quality of cohesiveness so that they could function as a whole when conquering the land of Israel.


[From "Inner Lights from Jerusalem" based on Shem miShmuel and other Chassidic and Kabalistic Sources, translated and presented by Rabbi David Sterne.]