Once there was a small town consisting of only a few Jewish families. Between them, they had exactly ten men over the age of bar mitzvah. They were all dedicated people and they made sure that they never missed a minyan. One day, a new Jewish family moved in to town. Great joy and excitement; now they would have eleven men. But a strange thing happened. As soon as they had eleven, they could never manage a minyan!
When we know we are indispensable, we make a point of being there. Otherwise, “count me out.”
This week in the Torah reading of Bamidbar, we read of the census taken of the Jewish people. This portion is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the “season of the giving of the Torah.” One important and obvious connection is that in the Torah, too, every letter counts. One missing letter invalidates the entire scroll. Likewise, one missing Jew leaves Jewish peoplehood lacking, incomplete.
Nine of the holiest rabbis cannot make a minyan. Enter one little bar-mitzvah boy, and the minyan is complete! When we count Jews, there are no distinctions. We don’t look at religious piety or academic achievement. The rabbi and the rebel, the philanthropist and the pauper — all count for one: no more, no less.
If we count Jews because every Jew counts, then that implies a responsibility on Jewish communal leadership to ensure that no Jew is missing from the kehillah, from the greater community. It implies a responsibility to bring those Jews who are on the periphery of Jewish life inside. To make sure they feel that they belong and are welcome — even if they haven’t paid any membership fees. It also means that the individual Jew has commitments and obligations. If you’re important, don’t get lost. You are needed.
Today, we are losing a lot of Jews to ignorance. But sometimes we also lose them because we didn’t embrace them as we could have. At a time when they were receptive, we didn’t make them feel welcome.
Other faiths, ideologies and cults are using “love bombs” to entice Jews to their way of life. Very often they prey on the weak and vulnerable among us.
Anyone desperately seeking warmth, love and a sense of belonging will be an easy target for such groups. But there are lots of ordinary, stable people who crave these things too. Don’t we all? If the Jewish community doesn’t provide that warm welcome, we may very well find them going elsewhere.
We need to embrace everyone who walks in through our doors. And we need to do more than just wait for people to come to shul and make them feel welcome. We need to go out and find our people wherever they may be. Most certainly, when someone shows a spark of interest — a soul seeking its source — we need to be there; as an organized community, and as individuals.
So next time you notice someone sitting at the back of the shul looking lost, or even just a new face in the crowd, try and spare a smile. You may save a soul. Every Jew really does count. Let’s count them in.