Rachael Turkienicz

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - The Socialite - Rachael Turkienicz is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Rachael’s Cen­tre in Toronto, rachaels­cen­tre.org.

The To­rah por­tion, Mish­pa­tim, is of­ten read on a spe­cial Shab­bat called Shekalim, as on the up­com­ing Shab­bat. Shab­bat Shekalim was the time when each Is­raelite con­trib­uted a half-shekel to con­duct a cen­sus. The To­rah spec­i­fies that we do not count peo­ple, but rather the ob­jects they sub­mit.

In­ter­est­ingly, the parshah Mish­pa­tim be­gins with the laws of slav­ery that Is­rael must ob­serve. These laws de­scribe the rights of the slave and the lim­i­ta­tions of the owner. To a gen­er­a­tion of slaves re­deemed from Egypt, hear­ing that slaves have rights and own­ers have lim­i­ta­tions is revo­lu­tion­ary. When we cou­ple the shekalim custom with the To­rah state­ment of slave rights, in­ter­est­ing con­cepts emerge.

The idea that we are for­bid­den to re­duce peo­ple to mere num­bers is cru­cial to our un­der­stand­ing that ev­ery per­son re­tains their hu­man rights and dig­ni­ties. The same con­cept is in­tro­duced in the laws of slav­ery, con­trary to when Egypt taught us that peo­ple can in­deed be re­duced to prop­erty.

Through­out Jewish texts, there is dis­cus­sion as to why we can­not count peo­ple. This even ap­plies to count­ing mem­bers of a minyan. Num­bers rep­re­sent com­modi­ties as well as cost and ben­e­fit. Num­bers strip the per­son of their iden­tity and their unity within a larger col­lec­tive, whether it is a col­lec­tive of fam­ily, na­tion or hu­man­ity.

Jewish tra­di­tion has taken these ideas and lim­i­ta­tions and seized the mo­ment to cre­ate cus­toms of pos­i­tive bless­ings. When count­ing the mem­bers of a minyan, it is com­mon to re­cite a To­rah verse that con­veys a bless­ing and con­tains 10 words. Each word is as­signed to a per­son present. In that way we of­fer each per­son a place in the whole verse that will be re­cited. Rather than re­duce any­one to a dis­crete num­ber, we have el­e­vated ev­ery­one to a col­lec­tive bless­ing.

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