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An Only Child

Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

I once had a guest for Shabbat who had 18 brothers and sisters. Nowadays, with my wife coming from a family of 12 children, it's not as big a deal to me. But at the time, I had much to ask. One of the questions that fascinated me was how did he think his parents would feel if he disappeared for a few weeks. Would they even notice? Or perhaps he could make it back before they realized he had gone? Was he just #14, or did he feel special in any way?

I was amazed when he told me that he and every one of his siblings felt almost like an only child. Each felt that their parents loved them as though they had no other children. If he disappeared, his parents would feel no different than parents whose only child had disappeared.

I thought about it for a moment and realized that I feel the same myself. I have six children. Take one away, God forbid, and I wouldn't merely have five left. I would have lost an entire world. Each is special in his or her own way. One is so responsible; one is so loving; one is so smiley; one is so full of life and one is (unfortunately for him) just like his father. They aren't five clones. They are five individuals and I love each one independently of the others.

Be it one, four or 19, each child is precious to his parents. Each is a unique world unto himself.

This idea applies with God, too. Whether 19 children, or 5 billion, there is no difference. Each and every one of us is an only child. Each one is an entire universe. Each is precious in his or her own way. God loves us, because we are each unique and special.

In this week's portion, God counts the Jewish people. He knows how many of us there are, but he wants us to know that each one matters. We are not a nation of millions. We are special individuals who together make a nation. No one is dispensable. If one of us disappears, God notices. And cares.

In the same way as 19 children of the same parents can all feel like an only child, so too 5 billion children of a single God can all feel uniquely special. And when we feel secure in the love of our parents, we have the confidence to love those around us, too.

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