When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their number, then every man shall give a ransom for his soul to the Eternal when you count them, so that there be no plague among them when you number them (Shmot 30:12) 

Here is where the commandment to give the machatzit hashekel, the coin that was used to fund the sacrifices in the Temple, is given. Today, during Minchah prayers during the Fast of Esther, there is a custom to give three half-dollar coins to  tzedakkah in memory of the Temple. The pasuk (verse) quoted above describes a different use of the machatzit hashekel: taking a census. Rashi comments on that verse: 

So that there be no plague among them:” Because of the power of the evil eye has a hold on counting, and wild beasts would come upon them, as we found in the days of David. 

Rashi refers to an incident described in Shmuel Bet (Second Book of Samuel), chapter 24, in which David took a direct census of Israel, and a plague hit the people. 

The Talmud tells us (Yoma 22b) that we learn from verses that tell us that Israel shall be “innumerable as the sand of the sea” that it is forbidden to count Jews, even for the purpose of mitzvah.  

This is why the machatzit hashekel was used to take the census. Rather than count people directly, people counted coins. Similarly, today, when counting men for a minyan, we use the verse hoshia et amaecha uvarech et nachalatecha ureem venasem ad olam (Save Your people and bless Your inheritance, and shepherd and carry them forever [Psalm 28:9]) instead of numbers, because the verse is made up of ten words.  

What can we learn about the “un-countable” nature of the Jewish people, and what might this have to do with Purim? One obvious meaning is that a person is a whole world, and not simply a number. To reduce someone to a number is a means of ignoring their humanity.  

No one made greater use of that method of dehumanizing Jews than the Nazis. Survivors of the camps have numbers tattooed onto their arms. The Nazis were also known for their meticulous record-keeping. They numbered and recorded every person who they rounded up and killed.  

It was a prominent Nazi who connected the Nazi atrocities to the Purim story. Julius Streicher was founder and editor of Dur Sturmer, a Nazi newspaper that spread anti-Semitic propaganda to millions of Germans. Streicher said the day after Kristallnacht that just as “the Jew butchered 75,000 Persians in one night, the same fate would have befallen the German people had the Jews succeeded in inciting a war against Germany; the “Jews would have instituted a new Purim festival in Germany.” At the moment of his execution in Nuremburg, he is reported to have sarcastically said “Purimfest 1946.” 

For Streicher, Haman was the would-be hero who tried to rid the world of a pestilence, and was martyred with his sons. The Nazis, who kept detailed records and exact numbers of all of the Jews that they rounded up, were the ideological descendants of Haman. They fell, while the un-countable people who live by Jewish Standard Time, live on. 

Shabbat Shalom! 

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