Friday, November 4, 2011

7 Billion and Who?

It's official: out of the 7 billion people now living on this planet, I'm the 4,619,589,123rd. In tha annals of history, I'm the 79,309,175,129th person to have lived. At least, that's what the BBC population tool tells me. Both numbers have been calculated using UN Population Division figures; the second number includes calculations based on the methodology of scholar Carl Haub, who estimate
how many people had been alive since 50,000 B.C. Some ask if people really did live 50,000 years ago? Jewish tradition counts the world at 5,762 years old. What we all can agree on is the tiny Jewish population, although many people suggest staggeringly higher figures. Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra recently met with PM Bibi Netantyahu. When she asked Bibi how many Jews lived in Israel, he responded: 7 million or so. "No," replied Yingluck. "I asked how many Israelis are there in Israel not Thailand!" Sitting in Heathrow's Terminal 5 Gallery, praying this Sunday morning, I realised the percentage of Jews in an airport at any given time must also skew our numbers. Can we be counted? In this week’s Torah portion, when our small people make their debut with Abraham, G-d addresses this issue: Abram said: "You have given me no children..” He then took Abraham outside and said: ‘Look at the sky and count the stars, see if you can count them...That is how numerous your descendants will be” Why did G-d tell Avraham, if you are able to count them? Surely He knew it was an impossible task for a mortal being. The holy Tzanser Rebbe explains: The stars are small down here on earth, but the higher up you go, the greater they become. So too the Children of Israel: down here we may seem small, but in Heaven, in Spiritual terms, we are mightily important. I think Mr. Mark Twain (despite being the 1,747,985,459th person alive) said it best: "If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. ..The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet wth sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" Perhaps the secret lies in the verse that follows the above dialogue between G-d and Abraham. It concludes: "He [Abraham] believed in G-d, so (G-d) accounted it for him as an act of righteousness." In other words, G-d gave Abraham brownie points for believing in Him. Our commentators tell us that G-d would later transform this implicit trust in Him into an inherited character trait in Abram's descendants.

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