By: Rabbi Mendy Wolf
There is an old argument that has been debated by scholars and philosophers and considered by economists, educators, and just about anyone else. Simply put, what is more important: quality or quantity? Is a half-hour of undivided attention more conducive to strong relationships than hours of physical proximity? Is it better to be an expert in one field or a jack-of-all-trades? Should one do many “small” mitzvos or focus on doing one mitzvah well?
This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, is filled with numbers. In fact, it introduces the fourth of the Five Books of the Torah, known as Numbers. The context: The Jewish people are being counted.
At first glance, the chapters devoted to the census seem extraneous, if not demeaning. Why is necessary to know exactly how many Jews there are? Is a Jew simply “a number”? Statistics are dry; can they reflect the value of each individual? The focus on quantity is surprising.
Every Sunday for years, the Lubavitcher Rebbe would stand and greet the thousands who came to see him. Each received a dollar, together with blessings and guidance in his personal affairs. The line stretched down the block, and the Rebbe would remain standing for hours, giving each individual his undivided attention.
One Sunday, an elderly woman joined the line for “dollars”. As her turn came to pass by the Rebbe, she exclaimed, “Rebbe, I don’t understand! I have been standing for a few hours and I am exhausted. How are you able to stand all day every week and not tire?”
The Rebbe replied, “When you are counting diamonds, you don’t get tired.”
Many nothings are still nothing. Ten zeroes are meaningless. Hundreds of failures do not add up to even one success. But if an item is truly of value, numbers matter. Is a hundred dollars not better than one? So too, the Rebbe was telling her, a Jew is a diamond. And where there is quality, quantity becomes significant.
Thus, the census actually highlights the quality of every Jew. For why else would they be counted, if they weren’t precious?
Just as a Jew is invaluable, so is a mitzvah. Each commandment connects one to G-d; there is no difference between “small” and “large”. Observing one “important” mitzvah is not necessarily more significant than fulfilling ten “minor” ones. When it comes to Jews and Judaism, quantity matters, for we are dealing with quality. We are touching G-d.
Rabbi Mendy Wolf is the educational director for the Institute of American & Talmudic Law, and the director for Project Life, an organization which promotes Jewish values throughout the business community in NYC. R’ Mendy is a sought after teacher and lecturer and resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and family. Contact Rabbi Mendy to book him to speak or with feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.