You Really Count

We love the feedback we are getting from students of our Scrolling through Scripture course. After watching Lesson 5, Paul asked about the five Hebrew words for counting that were mentioned. We sent him a link to this Thought Tool from the past and thought that many of you would enjoy it as well.

Psst! Want to see a list of the world’s 50 most influential Jews? How about the list of the top 10 mistakes that husbands make? Interested in the top 10 distinctions between millionaires and the middle class? The 100 best lawyer jokes or the 7 secrets of success?

All these lists are real and all attracted wide readership. As you can imagine, articles titled, “Jews Wield Much Influence Internationally,” or “Many Marital Mistakes Men Make,” etc., would not have done nearly as well. People love lists, which is why books and articles that promise to list a specific number of things do far better than those that do not. Comedians regularly acknowledge the reality that we are drawn to lists with their offerings of the 10 best, or 10 worst or even just 10 reasons why…

Here is a reliable technique for enhancing the next speech you have to deliver in public. Early in your remarks include the phrase, “I would like to describe the 3 main explanations/reasons/excuses,” or so on. You will increase the chances that your audience will pay attention.

Let’s try to understand why lists intrigue us. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that there are two ways of counting. The first ignores the value of each individual item and is only concerned with the whole. For instance, when we count coins we don’t care about each one, we only care about the total.

King David aroused God’s anger counting the Israelites in this manner. (II Samuel 24:10)

However, there is another way of counting, perhaps the way we might count books we love. Each one is unique and valuable. This is the way that God instructs Moses to count the children of Israel at the beginning of the Book of…Numbers, of course!

In this kind of numbering, the importance of each individual element is strongly emphasized. When we hear of the top 10 or top 20 of anything, we assume we are hearing about the 10 most important or the 20 most important. Each item is neither trivial nor interchangeable.

The English verb to count has several synonyms. Enumerate, tally, number, figure, and so on. Wouldn’t you be astonished to discover that each of those synonyms had another shared meaning? For instance, if count, enumerate, tally, number, and figure all meant some type of pasta you would rightly consider it to be an astounding coincidence.

Yet, in the Lord’s language, five synonyms for counting do just that.

פ-ק-ד (P-K-D) “…don’t count the Levites” (Numbers 1:49)
נ-ש-א (N-S-A) “…count the heads..” (Numbers 1:2)
ס-פ-ר (S-F-R) “…count seven weeks” (Deuteronomy 16:9)
מ-נ-ה (M-N-H) “He counts the numbers of the stars…” (Psalms 147:4)
ח-ש-ב (CH-SH-V) “…seek wisdom and reckoning…” (Ecclesiastes 7:25)

Amazingly, the roots of each of these words can also mean an elevated, important or prominent person. This idea was captured by the writers of the children’s PBS television series, Sesame Street, in which the character who ‘counts’ is also the aristocrat, the Count.

We often attach a number to something as a way of ascribing importance to it. A wedding anniversary doesn’t sound as significant as a 25th wedding anniversary. A business’ centennial is more exciting than its 102nd year.

We all need to make an effort to relate to people in our lives as significant, individual and important. No matter how many students, employees or neighbors we have, both they and we benefit when we ‘number’ them in ways that matter.


Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language

(Hardcover) – On sale this week for $19.95

Join Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin on a fascinating treasure hunt through the Lord’s language. Discover God’s understanding of love, happiness, faith and wealth.

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6 thoughts on “You Really Count”

  1. Watch out there Rabbi. You were already labeled antisemitic for pointing how Jews are disproportionately successful. 🙂

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  2. Leland Johnson

    It is very good that I read this today. It reminds me that I need to respond to a friends correspondence. It “numbers” him as unimportant if I fail to acknowledge him. Thank you.

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  3. Jeff Nykolayow

    I have heard it said that we have a choice as to how our head is lifted, from our shoulders or to a higher stature.

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    1. There is such a saying in ancient Jewish wisdom, Jeff, that is connected to the butler and the baker’s experiences in Genesis.

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