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At sight of the rays that emanated from Moses' face, the people said to him: "We were humbled by God owing to that sin we had committed. God, thou sayest, had forgiven us, and is reconciled to us. Thou, Moses, were include in our humiliation, and we see that He has once more exalted thee, whereas, in spite of the reconciliation with God, we remain humbled." Hereupon Moses betook himself to God and said; "When Thou didst humble them, Thou didst humble me also, hence shouldst Thou now raise them too, if Thou has raised me." God replied: "Truly, as I have exalted thee, so will I exalt them also; record their number, and through this show the world how near to My heart is the nation that before all others acknowledged Me as their king, singing by the Red Sea: 'This is my God, and I will exalt Him.'" Moses then said to God: "O Lord of the world! Thou hast so many nation in Thy world, but Thou carest nothing about recording their numbers, and only Israel dost Thou bid me count." God replied: "All these multitudes do not belong to Me, they are doomed to the destruction of Gehenna, but Israel is My possession, and as a man most prizes the possession he paid for most dearly, so is Israel most dear to Me, because I have with great exertions made it My own." [313] Moses further said to God: "O Lord of the world! To our father Abraham Thou made the following promises: 'And I will make thy seed as the stars in the heavens,' but now Thou biddest me number Israel. If their forefather Abraham could not count them, how, then, should I?" But God quieted Moses, saying: "Thou needest not actually count them, but if thou wouldst determine their number, add together the numerical value of the names of the tribes, and the result will be their number." And truly in this way did Moses procure the sum total of the Jews, which amounted to sixty myriads less three thousand, the three thousand having been swept away by the plague in punishment for their worship of the Golden Calf. Hence the difference between the number at the exodus from Egypt, when Moses had counted them for the first time, and the number at the second census, after the losses incurred by the plague. God treated Israel as did that king his herd, who ordered the shepherds tell the tale of the sheep when he heard that wolves had been among them and had killed some, having this reckoning made in order to determine the amount of his loss.

The occasions on which, in the course of history, Israel were numbered, are as follows: Jacob counted his household upon entering Egypt; Moses counted Israel upon the exodus from Egypt; after the worship of the Golden Calf; at the arrangement into camp divisions; and at the distribution of the promised land. Saul twice instituted a census of the people, the first time when he set out against Nahash, the Ammonite, and the second time when he set out in war upon Amalek. It is significant of the enormous turn in the prosperity of the Jews during Saul's reign, that at the first census every man put down a pebble, so that the pebbles might be counted, but at the second census the people were so prosperous that instead of putting down a pebble, every man brought a lamb. There was a census in the reign of David, which, however, not having been ordered by God, had unfortunate consequences both for the king and for the people. Ezra instituted the last census when the people returned from Babylon to the Holy Land. Apart from these nine censuses, God will Himself count His people in the future time when their number will be so great that no mortal will be able to count them. [314]

There was an offering to the sanctuary connected with the second census in Moses' time, when every one above twenty years of age had to offer up half a shekel. For God said to Moses: "They indeed deserve death for having made the Golden Calf, but let each one offer up to the Eternal atonement money for his soul, and in this way redeem himself from capital punishment." When the people heard this, they grieved greatly, for they thought: "In vain did we exert ourselves in taking booty from the Egyptians, if we are not to yield up our hard-earned possessions as atonement money. The law prescribes that a man pay fifty shekels of silver for dishonoring a woman, and we who have dishonored the word of God, should have to pay at least an equal amount. The law furthermore decrees that if an ox kill a servant, his owner shall pay thirty shekels of silver, hence every Israelite should have to discharge such a sum, for 'we changed our glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass.' But these two fines would not suffice, for we slandered God, He who brought us out of Egypt, by calling out to the Calf, 'This is thy God, that brought thee up out of Egypt,' and slander is punishable by law with one hundred shekels of silver." God who knew their thoughts, said to Moses: "Ask them why they are afraid. I do not ask of them to pay as high a fine as he who dishonors or seduces a woman, nor the penalty of a slanderer, nor that of the owner of a goring ox, all that I ask of them is this," and hereupon he showed Moses at the fire a small coin that represented the value of half a shekel. This coin each one of those who had passed through the Red Sea was to give as an offering.

There were several reasons why God asked particularly for the value of half a shekel as a penalty. As they committed their sin, the worship of the Golden Calf, in the middle, that is the half of the day, so they were to pay half of a shekel; and, furthermore, as they committed their sin in the sixth hour of the day, so were they to pay half a shekel, which is six grains of silver. This half shekel, furthermore, contains ten gerahs, and is hence the corresponding fine for those who trespassed the Ten Commandments. The half shekel was also to be an atonement for the sin committed by the ten sons of Jacob, who sold their brother Joseph as a slave, for whom each had received half a shekel as his share. [315]

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