We enter the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible, commonly known as Numbers, encountering, as we would expect from the title, the importance of the census. The occasions of conducting a census in the Bible, including these at the beginning of this book, are very important and worthy of study.
Yet, this fourth book of the Bible also goes by the Hebrew title, B'Midbar, which means, In the Wilderness. This is helpful to our understanding because the organization of the people (and, perhaps our own lives) is particularly significant as we begin to confront the challenges and opportunities in the wilderness.
The first census is for the principal purpose of organizing an army to protect and serve the community.
Only by being secure and protected can the community be properly structured so that each person can best support the community and the community can best support each person.
At the center of the community are the ark, the tent, and holy objects that represent what matters most - our establishing sacred space to draw near to God and our living true to our covenant with the Divine.
Another census counts the Levites who maintain and operate this sacred space.
What are the lessons of these censuses in the wilderness? Our mission is to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Our means to fulfill this covenant expectation requires, as God instructs, that we physically secure our community and its core elements. The hard work of counting and organizing and protecting the community and what's central to its mission is essential to realizing the dream.