According to Rabbi Akiva, the "great principle" of Judaism is "Love your fellow as yourself."1 A similar idea was expressed a century earlier by the great sage, Hillel. When asked to sum up the whole of Jewish teaching "while I stand on one foot" he replied: "That which you do not like, do not do to others. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study!"2

This week's Torah reading (BamidbarNumbers 1:1-4:20), which begins the fourth Book of the Torah, is always read on the Shabbat before the festival of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah at Sinai. If the great principle of the Torah is the theme of loving one's fellow, we might expect to find this idea in our Parshah as well. After all, in Jewish teachings there are many matching patterns, and each step forward is a preparation for the next.

However, when we examine the verses of this week's Torah reading we find that it largely consists of a census of the Jewish people who were together with Moses in the Sinai desert. The numbers of the Jewish people are given tribe by tribe in great detail. Later sections of the Book also contain similar lists of numbers of the population, and for this reason the entire fourth Book of the Torah is termed in English the "Book of Numbers." (The sages, too, use a similar term: Chumash HaPikkudim.)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the idea of counting the Jewish people itself expresses the theme of love of one's fellow.

Each person is an individual, different from others. Yet when people are being counted, each person is simply "one." The most highly talented, distinguished individual is "one" and somebody who might feel himself to be just a very simple and plain person with no special qualities is also "one."

A common problem in human relationships is precisely the feeling that we are worth more than another. We are valuable and significant, while the other is hardly relevant. Consequently, what does he matter to me? Further, how could I possibly help him?

Here, explains the Rebbe, the Torah comes to teach us that each person is simply "one." We are no more significant than anyone else. Further, we recognize that since we are only "one" we need that other person in order that we can join together. Recognizing that each of us is just "one" also helps us see how similar we actually are to each other — and we then soon find ways that we can help that other person as well.3