Jewish Math

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Jewish Math

By Rob Lennick, D. Min., Executive Director, JFNM

On the day I was ordained a rabbi in 1984, Rabbi Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus z”l, the founder of the American Jewish Archives spoke to our class. He said, “I know you will all be judging yourselves and each other by how many people show up to your services, your schools, and your programs. You’ll make those numbers the litmus test of your success. Do yourselves a favor. Don’t count heads. Count feet.” Everyone broke out in a wave of laughter.

Dr. Marcus was on to something important. Jewish leaders have been counting from time immemorial. Moses took a census (that’s why the fourth book of the Torah, “Numbers” gets its English name). Rabbis and sages have been enumerating the mitzvot (commandments) for generations. How many Jews does it take to make a minyan (the quorum for public prayer)? Ten. How many rabbis does it take to ordain another rabbi or formalize a conversion to Judaism? Three. How many candles do you light for Shabbat? A minimum of two. How many Hanukkah candles must be lit to fulfill the Hanukkah mitzvah to light the Hanukkah menorah? Hint – don’t count the “shamash,” used each night to light the others… The answer is: 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8 = 36. We count the omer for 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. We count the exact minutes from when one may say the Shema in the morning to the last minute it can be said at night based on the total minutes between sunrise and sunset on any given day. We count three stars in the sky to end Shabbat. We count, and we count, and we count. And let’s not forget: How many sheckles do we have? For the building fund, helping people in need, and so on.

With all of this Jewish math… you might conclude that Judaism is preoccupied with counting. Not exactly. It goes much deeper. Behind this attention to numbers is a passion, a fundamental commitment to make sure, above all else, that every single person and every single moment of life…COUNTS! It’s not about counting people…but about making people count! It’s not about counting tzedakah (charity)…but making tzedakah count! It’s not about counting the berachot (blessings) we say…but making berachot count by being a blessing! It’s not about counting seconds, minutes, hours, days or years…but making every moment and experience count. And that is our job through the Jewish Federation of New Mexico…to make sure that every Jew, every Jewish family and everyone connected to our community, truly counts; and to bring our community together to create Jewish moments and memories that truly count.

In this new Jewish year of 5780 – our hope for everyone, throughout our New Mexico Jewish community and the world, is that we will certainly count our blessings. Our hope is that Jews and all people everywhere will be safe from hatred and violence. Our hope is that we will count Israel in our prayers. And our hope is that each of us will utilize the Yamim Noraim, these Days of Awe to make sure that the people in our lives know that they really count to us. Let’s make sure that the people we love, our family and friends, our neighbors and associates, all know that they count, that they matter, that we don’t take anyone for granted. It’s a simple equation. It’s as easy as saying, “I love you. I appreciate you. I am thankful for you.” To me, this is the essence of Jewish math.

Loretta joins me, along with the entire Jewish Federation of New Mexico family in wishing you and yours: “L’shanah Tova, u’Metukah, v’Shalom,” May this be a New Year filled with sweetness, goodness and peace for one and all.


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