D’var Torah by Rabbi Jason Holtz delivered on 27 May 2017 at Bromley Reform Synagogue 

This week, there have been devastatingly bad numbers.  Twenty dead, including seven children.  The youngest was just 8 years old.  Sixty four wounded.

This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, opens for us the Book of Numbers.  The book gets its name because it opens with a census, despite the Jewish tradition of not counting people.  In fact, both the census and the tradition of not counting people stems from the same motives.  On the one hand, people are more than numbers.  We’re not simply a statistic, we’re human beings.  Everyone is invaluable.  Everyone is worth more than can be conveyed by a simple numerical value.  Hence, we don’t count people.  On the other hand, the census gives Moses and God the opportunity to say that every person counts.  Every person is important, and so, there were 603,550 people counted and each one was absolutely necessary and vital.  The Hassidic Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev teaches that those 603,550 souls are the same number as the letters of the Torah scroll…though you have to count unwritten vowels and even a bit of space around the actual printed letters to get that number.  Just as a Torah scroll is whole and kosher only when every single letter is present, so too were the ancient Israelites only whole with each and every person present.  In Manchester this week, each life taken was a life that counted and a life with immeasurable worth.

This week’s sad, deadly attack in Manchester runs so opposite to the lessons taught in our Jewish tradition.  To the terrorist and his supporters, every life is not valuable, even their own.  The worth of a human life is not only minimized by them, but human life is contrary to their vision of the world. As Judaism celebrates, cherishes and guards life, the murderer does the opposite.

We fight terrorism with police, intelligence, and military use as necessary, but not just that.  We, all of us, fight terrorism daily with our lived values of concern and care for one another and our belief that we are one humanity.   Every time we show our love for one another, every time we do something good for another person, every time we reject, as a reason for hatred, divisions such as religion or national origin, every time we embody the best of humanity, we land a blow against terrorism.  We fight terrorism and cruelty with the mitzvah to love one’s neighbour.

The Torah begins the story of humanity by saying that we are created in the Divine Image.  That is why an assault on a person is considered to be an assault on God.  It also means that within each and every one of us, we have the power to bring Godliness into a world that sometimes seems filled with hatred and violence.  May we be blessed and strengthened in our work l’taken et haolam, to repair this broken world.