At the very beginning of this week’s Parsha, Parshat Bamidbar (also the name of the 4th book of the Torah that begins this week) Hashem tells Moshe to count all males from the age of twenty and up who can serve in the army. Along with another census of Bnei Yisrael found in Parshat Pinchas (also in Sefer Bamidbar), we derive the book’s English name, The Book of Numbers. 

This week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar always falls on the Shabbat before Shavuot. Between Pesach and Shavuot, we count the days from the time of our freedom to the time of the giving of the Torah, a period known as Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer). This involves counting each of the 49 days between the two holidays. The 49-day (7-week) period is referred to as the “Omer period” or simply “the Omer” or “the Sefirah.” The practice originates from the biblical commandment of the Omer offering (or sheaf offering), which was made on Pesach. Following this offering, 49 days were counted, culminating in the celebration of Shavuot.

Numbers play a significant role in Jewish tradition. We need 10 individuals for a minyan, and our rabbis assign numerical values to letters, names, words, or phrases through Gematria. Additionally, intricate mathematical rules govern our Jewish calendar. The list of ways numbers influence Jewish practices and beliefs goes on and on.

One could deduce from these examples that Jews are obsessed with counting. It seems as if we are always counting people, or counting days, or counting something! There is even a name for this: Arithmomania. While I would not go so far as to say that Jews as a whole are arithmomanic, numbers do play an important role in Judaism. In Judaism, numbers are believed to be a means for understanding the divine. 

At The Toronto Heschel School, we take a critical thinking approach to numeracy. We believe that mathematically literate students understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Numbers are all around us. As our Torah portion reminds us, and as we prepare for Shavuot next week, consider the important role that numbers play in your life. At Heschel, your children learn that understanding numbers is central to mathematical literacy. This week, at your Shabbat or Yom Tov table, ask your children about the significance of numbers and how numbers influence their daily lives. Engage them in a discussion about the ways numbers shape our world, from the counting of the Omer to the structure of our calendar, and the deeper meanings conveyed through Gematria. This conversation can be a wonderful way to connect their learning with real-life applications and enrich your family’s appreciation of the profound role numbers play in our tradition.

Shabbat Shalom VeChag Sameach,

Moreh Alan