July 22, 2011

I am obsessed with numbers and statistics.

Why you might ask?  As many of you know, after my Judaism and my family, my next love in life is baseball and especially the Yankees.  Baseball, more than any other sport is about numbers.  Ask any fan (especially a Yankee one) what do 56, 60 and 61 represent?  Fans banter about numbers like ERA, RBI, slugging percentage, on base percentage, saves and first pitch strikes ad infinitum.

Thanks to the advent of the DVR, I was able to view my all time favorite Derek Jeter join the august body of players in baseball history to record 3,000 base hits.  He did it with the aplomb of a home run to reach the magic number.   Not to mention his perfect day at bat leading the Yankees to a win.

That night,  I pondered (and rewatched it multiple times) the momentous occasion, I began to reflect on the deeper meaning of numbers and keeping track of what surely are meaningless statistics to many.  As is my wont, I began to reflect on its relationship to this week’s parsha, Pinchas.  Specifically the second Aliyah.  Here we see God ordering Moses and Elazare HaKohn to take a second census of the B’nai Yisrael.  Recall the first census took place at the beginning of Bamidbar, Numbers.  This census, thirty-nine years later includes the names of each clan in the Jewish nation by family names.  In what is one of the longest Aliyot, the Torah does not organize the census around where they pitched their tents or their date of birth, but around the Mispachot, the family clans/units originally descended from Jacob’s twelve sons.

To say this chapter appears incredibly unexciting would be an understatement.  Take your own look at pages 920-924 in our Etz Hayim Chumash.  What do we learn here?  Some say it was a method to “divide” the land, another says it was in anticipation of the impending battles to conquer the Land and another says God merely wants to count his children after the plague as a shepherd counts his flock.  While it may only be a parable, “there is something to be learned from everything.”

The other question worthy of contemplating here is why does the Torah bother to give us each leader’s name, but insists on telling us their (so called) first and last names?  In Midrash Sifrei Zuta 27:1, it is suggested that the names in the Torah signify the moral quality of the people who have them.

How does this Midrash and this part of our parsha relate to Derek Jeter?  One of the reasons Jeter’s accomplishment was so anticipated and celebrated is because of the good name he has built for himself on and off the playing field.  Numbers mean something (think of Roger Clemens, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds or Mark McGuire), but the worth of “value of a good name outshines” everything.

Our names are extremely precious.  We have to live and behave “by the book” to make and keep them valuable.  As we read in the Book of Kohelt, Ecclesiastes 7:1, “A good name is better than precious oil.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham