The funny thing about customer service is that it often doesn’t serve the customer. “To them I’m not a person, just an account number,” customers often complain. And there is nothing quite so cold as being treated like a number.

Strikingly, the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, is referred to as the Book of Numbers. At the beginning of the book, a year after the Jews left Egypt, G‑d instructs Moses to conduct a census of Israel, the firstborns and the Levites. And at the end of the book, in Year 40 of wandering in the desert, G‑d once again instructs Moses to count the people. Why all this counting?Hence the name “Book of Numbers,” or in Hebrew, Chumash ha-Pekudim.

Why all this counting? The commentaries explain that counting expresses G‑d’s love and care for His nation. That seems counterintuitive. A census just gives you a bunch of numbers for each tribe and group, nothing personal. How is that loving and caring?

The standard Hebrew word for counting is cheshbon or minyan. But throughout the Torah a different word, pekudim, is used. This word and its derivatives are used in many different ways throughout the Torah and Prophets. Among them are:

  1. To remember, as in “G‑d remembered (pakad) Sarah . . . and Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son to Abraham,”1 or in G‑d’s promise to take the Jewish people of out Egypt: “G‑d will surely remember you (pakod yifkod) and bring you out of this land.”2
  2. To be missed, as in the famous haftorah about David and Jonathan: “David’s place was missing (vayipakeid).”3
  3. To assign, as in the responsibilities of the Levites: “And the assignment of (pekudat) the Merari family.”4
  4. Destiny, as in Korach’s rebellion: “And the destiny (pekudat) of all men will be brought upon them.”5
  5. Accounting, as when Moses gives an accounting for all the donations to construct the Tabernacle: “This is the accounting (pekudei) of the Tabernacle.”6
  6. To command (in Modern Hebrew).

Why so many usages for this word? I believe there is one unifying definition: “to take notice.” When G‑d remembers Sarah, He takes notice of her and blesses her with a child. When G‑d takes notice of the Jewish people, He sends Moses to take them out of Egypt. When No one gets overlookedDavid is absent from King Saul’s table, his absence is noticed. The Levites are noted for their assignment and special role in the Tabernacle. The same goes for a command—you are taking notice of the person you are commanding.

When G‑d instructs Moses to count the Jewish nation, G‑d says pekod, not meneh. G‑d doesn’t simply want a number to put into his spreadsheet. G‑d wants Moses to take notice of every single Jew. Because G‑d loves and cares for every individual. No one gets overlooked.

Chumash ha-Pekudim—a whole book of G‑d taking notice of the Jewish people. What great love.