The Book of Bemidbar opens with a census. The people are organized by tribe, by gender and by age. Then, the count begins. It immediately forces us to ask questions like: “Who counts? Does any one individual count more than the others? Who doesn’t count?”
So, just for kicks, I decided to do a Google search of “famous Jews.” Here are the top six image results:
So, who are these people and how do we explain these results?
They are (from left to right) Vladimir Horowitz, Albert Einstein, Debra Winger, Paul Newman, Woody Allen and Anne Frank.
Wow — I would LOVE to see the algorithm that came up these six!
Vladimir Horowitz was an amazing musician, but is he the #1 most famous Jew of all time? Even though I know who he was, I didn’t recognize that picture.
These days, I think most people would pick Natalie Portman over Debra Winger. Even Adam Sandler knows that Paul Newman was only half Jewish. And I choose not to speak about Woody Allen.
I think it’s safe to say that only Albert Einstein and Anne Frank make sense – clearly belonging in any conversation about the most famous Jews.
It’s exactly this kind of conversation that leads to lists like “Most Influential Rabbis” or “Most Influential Jews in Sports.” The Torah never gets into that kind of conversation. Those above a certain age were simply counted.
It seems to me that we all have the potential to be influential people and influential Jews. That’s what it means to have the spark of the Divine within us. Some of us make that potential a reality while others do not.
Indeed, there are many ways to influence our community: science, philosophy, medicine, economics, politics and Judaic scholarship among them. There is no magic formula.We can fulfill the potential which God has given us through many avenues.
The truth is that we all count when we strive to do our best in our chosen area or field. May we all stand up and be counted as we contribute to our community through those God-given skills which are unique to us as individuals.