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On the Margins


This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, describes a comprehensive census undertaken to count Israelite men over 20 years old. These are people who count, who matter. They totaled 601,730 people.

But, then, an interesting thing happens when it comes to noting the lineage of Amram and Yocheved, and their children; a more inclusive view of who counts is presented.

For instance, it is interesting to note that the text lists all three children of Amram and Yocheved: Moses and Aaron and even their sister Miriam. Somehow, society therefore allows this woman to “count” in the lineup here. Maybe it was an acknowledgement of her incredible heroism floating her baby brother on the nile so that he could live and one day aid in the redemption of the people. Perhaps it was because of her unifying and uplifting song that carried the people out of Egypt and through the sea. Or maybe, it is because she was associated with the water that she helped the Israelites find as they wandered through the desert. For whatever reason, her life was significant enough to count. 

Now, you could say that all those examples of Miriam’s important contributions to the Jewish people are pretty impressive and should ensure she be counted even in a patriarchal society. However, what about less impressive family members, and even ones who died as a result of their ill behavior? Would you think they’d be counted and remembered?

In this Torah portion, they are; Nadav and Abihu are remembered as Aaron’s sons who died as a result of offering up alien fire to God. Perhaps they serve as an example of what not to do, so their story is preserved. Or, maybe, it is a statement about the loved ones who die, especially those who die at a young age— they and their memories stay with us forever more. Through all of our wandering and journeys, we remember them and miss their presence.  

The accounting of people in this Torah portion reminds us to broaden the circles of who should count in our minds eye; to include those at the margins. I’m glad the stories and memories of Miriam and Nadav and Abihu still linger in the text. Their lives mattered and their stories enrich our collective understanding of who we are as a people. How can you broaden your perspective of who counts?



The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Pinchas, Numbers Numbers 25:10 - 30:1. Please visit rabbiheathermiller.com to subscribe and follow on social media.

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