Bamidbar begins with a census of the Jewish people.

“. . . a head-count of every male according to the number of their names. From twenty years old and upwards, all who are fit to go out to the army in Israel, you shall count them by their legions ...” (Numbers 1:1)

The simple reason for this census was to count those who would be called upon to go to war.

On a deeper level, Rashi explains that G‑d desired a census of the Jewish people because He treasures them.

The Chassidic masters explain that the counting of the Jewish people demonstrated the value of every individual, how cherished each one is to G‑d. Each person was counted, irrespective of his level of observance, his skills, his degree of learnedness, or whether he was a man of means or impoverished. Each individual was shown that he counted for no more and no less than one. Irrespective of external trappings, G‑d treasures his essential value. Moreover, by accentuating his independent identity, he was empowered to respect his own individuality and remain true to himself.

Why then was a large segment of the Jewish people entirely excluded? Only the males were counted, and only those from twenty and upwards. Are some perhaps more equal than others? Was the contribution of the entire female population, or the elders, not cherished by G‑d?

The Kabbalists explain that the masculine force in creation is outward-bound, while the feminine is inward-bound. The masculine spiritual service is to forge into the outside, foreign territory, to wage war against the negativity of our world. The feminine spiritual role, by contrast, is to protect, nurture, discover, and reveal the holiness implicit in creation.

We are in a male mode when we impose a higher truth upon our world and ourselves. When we seek to nurture the divine power in what already is and become sensitized to the potential of our inner essence, we are using our feminine dynamic.

The counting of the Jewish people began from the age of twenty and upwards, those who were mature enough physically, emotionally, and spiritually to go out to wage war. What is “going out to war” in the spiritual sense?

Our task as human beings is to create a world that is a home for our Creator, compatible to His standards and morals, a holy world.

We can accomplish this through two modalities.

On the one hand, we bring more G‑dliness into our world by fighting against the darkness and evil around us. We vanquish the earthly negativity by aggressively assaulting it—through physical might, by literally waging war against the tyranny of cruel regimes or through ideological battles against immoral ideals.

The other modality is to strengthen, cultivate, and nurture the positive already inherent in G‑d’s creation. This mode is not waging a war or imposing an order, but rather uncovering and nurturing the positive and G‑dly aspects within our world, and thereby increasing and spreading holiness.

While the first mode means putting ourselves in a position of danger by exposing us to the outside elements, the second involves protecting and guarding the precious inner elements of G‑dliness within our lives.

Both of these approaches are necessary, and each role is integral to the Creator’s plan. There are times when we must wage an external battle, and there are times when we must safeguard our internal treasures.

While the protection-and-discovery mode requires delicate skills and spiritual sensitivity, waging an external battle involves definite risk and exposure. To battle against outside forces, you must have adequate training, but also a strong sense of identity and a real appreciation for your uniqueness and worth as an individual.

The census in this Torah portion was for those individuals who were given the task of “going out” and “waging war.”

The men fighting on the outside needed this infusion. When on the attack, fighting in alien environments against foreign values that constantly attempt to erode his ideals and vision, this reminder is essential to keep the warrior focused and on track, instead of swallowed up by the surrounding norms.

Perhaps this is the reason for why only the men able to go to war were counted. The counting provided extra empowerment to those who would be exposed and vulnerable in waging battle against the negative forces of creation.

On the other hand, the self-worth of the women (and the elders) would be validated through their critical and steadfast role of safeguarding our inner treasures.