The Enternal spoke to Moses, saying: "Take [further] a census of the sons of Gershonites by their ancestral house and by their clans."
At the beginning of Parashat Naso, the word "naso" is used to describe the census of the Gershonites (a Levite ancestral house) that God instructs Moses to take. In this context, the word naso is translated as "count." This parashah includes several of the early chapters of the book of Numbers. It isn't surprising that counting is a central idea here!
Counting is something we typically learn to do as young children. Along with learning the alphabet and names of shapes and colors, counting is a skill that often is thought of as rote learning. Although it may be impressive when a young child can recite "their numbers" and "their letters," the real learning comes less from acquiring these seemingly basic skills and more from the children's interest in this knowledge and what they do with it. Counting can also be referred to as "telling" our numbers. If we think about it this way, then it conjures up an entirely different picture, almost as if we are telling the story of our numbers.
In this parashah, the Hebrew word "naso," as it relates to taking a census of our family members, can suggest that not only are we counting our family members but also telling about them as well.
In today's Torah for Tots, we'd like to consider the idea of "counting" or "telling" as a metaphor that will allow us to focus on the aspects of our own families and lives that are worthy of note. We will refer not only to counting (or telling) our blessings as it relates to our lives in the here and now but also to the gratitude we feel to those who came before us: our family members who long ago planted seeds that brought about the blessings we are so fortunate to enjoy today.
In these times of turmoil and uncertainty in our world, it can be difficult to look at life through a positive lens, even for the most sun-shiny optimist. Certainly, our children feel a sea change, something in the air, even if they do not understand the issues and dilemmas faced by the adults in their lives. However, in our own small way, we can and must counteract this. Our own personal, positive attitude can and will affect a change in the bigger picture of life around us. We find inspiration and motivation for this from one of our greatest Jewish teachers. In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon teaches us, "You are not obligated to finish the task, neither are you free to neglect it." This thought reminds us of our connection to past and future generations and our obligation to be mindful of our connections with them and our role in the story of our family and our community.
We begin by giving our children a template from which they can operate, a regular "counting" of the many wonderful blessings we have in our lives, day in and day out. Imagine starting every day with a gratitude list (written or verbal) that names the awesome aspects of our lives, the everyday, as well as the once-in-a-while things that lift our spirits and remind us of how lucky we are to be alive. Acknowledging our blessings helps us start each day with a cheery disposition, with strength, with fortitude and with a resolve to accept and deal with all that comes our way. It builds our "attitude muscles," and, yes, it helps us look at the world through rose-colored glasses. While it might not seem as if this can counteract all or any difficulties we might face in our day-to-day lives, by keeping our own doorstep clean, by facing the task of remaining positive in our own homes and lives, the ripples will affect the world at large.
This parashah also reminds us to tell our children about our ancestors on whose shoulders we stand. Those who came before us certainly had their share of hardships. We remember and acknowledge the part that they played in our being alive today. They had everyday lives that included putting food on their families' tables, maintaining a home and a place in their communities, and dealing with any stresses they might have encountered in living their lives. We gain strength from knowing that they persevered and that they did what they could to keep their families alive. We are blessed by their having lived and are grateful to them for doing what they did to help us live the lives we live today. Let's tell our family stories to our children so that all of us can gain strength and fortitude from those who came before. Let us also remind ourselves that each day we can count our blessings, large and small.
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Do you remember hearing stories of your ancestors when you were a child?
- Do you have pictures of your parents when they were young? Of their parents? If so, have you shared them with your children?
- How can you make counting blessings a daily part of your family rituals?
Questions for Children:
- Can you think of something good that happened to you today? How did you feel about it?
- Do you know what your parents were like when they were kids? Ask them to tell you about some of their favorite memories.
- Do you like counting?
Pages 923-936 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.