The People Between the Letters
May 14, 2021
By Gon Erez

As this week comes to a close, I cannot start my Jewish Thought without extending my deepest concerns and prayers to friends and family living in Israel, who are currently suffering from the deadly missile attacks from Gaza. Those missiles, as not too many people know, are also deadly for the people of Gaza, who are also suffering from this situation.

My heart goes out to the newly bereaved families as well. Let us all pray to see a better future for all people living in the Middle East, and everywhere else in the world.

First, allow me to introduce myself, my name is Gon Erez.  I’m 35 years old and moved to Buffalo just one month ago after living in Youngstown, Ohio for five and a half years with my wife Shay and our daughters Nuria (4) and Gali (2), and a very energetic dog named Coco. But my story does not start in Ohio, as we came there from Israel in 2015 as Shlichim (Israeli ambassadors). Our mission was to bring Israel into the community, and to unite people of different streams in our faith–Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Secular – and everyone who’s part of the big Jewish family.

Secondly, let’s dive into this week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, which discusses the census that G-d tells Moses to conduct among all the Israelite men, in the second year of their wandering. There are many interpretations of this Parasha and I want to focus on the final number they got to and what that number might mean.

We learned that Moses fulfills G-d’s command and conducts the census, which results in 603,550 men above the age of 20, excluding the Levites. What is that number? What does it resemble? In Bible studies, geometry is often used to compare words to other words and to numbers in the narrative. What does that number stand for? At first, The Chachamim (The smart ones) said this is the count of all the words in the bible totaling 603,550 words. Later on, with technology, it became clear that there are actually ‘only’ 306,757 words in the Torah. So what’s missing?

If we’re looking at the numbers, 306,757 is about half of the original number of 603,550. A wise Sofer Stam (Bible scribe) once said, that when one is counting the words in the Torah, they should count the blank spaces between the words as well as the written ones. This way each word will be counted twice, and that would lead to a number similar to the one in the census.

What does that mean then, that we should count both the written words in the Torah and the blank spaces between them? This is so we count all our people, not just those who read and are proficient in the Torah. There are members in our family that don’t read from the bible on a regular basis and there are those who have never opened a Torah scroll. They are all part of one big family, and my mission is to serve them all.

In my new role in Buffalo, I plan to carry on with our mission to bring the word of Israel to the community, and to bring all of our people to dwell together – whether Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or Secular – and everyone who wishes to take part – Shevet Achim Gam Yachad – for all of us to be together as one.

Gon Erez is the new Chief Program Officer at the JCC


The People Between the Letters - Jewish thought of the week graphic