“And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the desert of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month in the second year of their leaving Egypt” (Bamidbar 1:1).
Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to count the people. This wasn’t the first time He asked him to do so; in fact, He had given Him the same directive not longer before. Why, then, the need to count them again?
Rashi explains that Hashem wanted to count the Jewish people again because of His great love for them. Much like one who has a precious collection and constantly counts it, Hashem counts His nation because of His great affection towards it.
Rashi’s comment, though, is very difficult to understand considering that later (1:49) he explains that Hashem excluded the Levites from this count since everyone in it would later die in the desert because of the sin of the spies. Seemingly, then, this group – destined to die – was not beloved by Hashem. How, then, can Rashi say Hashem counted them because He loved them so dearly?
The answer to this question can be understood by first addressing another one: What could you do to make Hashem angry? Let’s say you decided, “That’s it. I’m fed up with Hashem, and I’m going to do something to get Him angry.” What could you do to make Hashem really mad?
The answer is: Nothing. Because, quite frankly, you’re not important enough to make Hashem angry. Hashem is the creator of everything. Hashem said, “It should be,” and a hundred billion galaxies, each containing a hundred billion stars, came into being. Before Hashem spoke, there was nothing and then, with words alone, everything – energy, matter, quarks, atoms, and molecules – came into existence.
Moreover, Hashem is not only the creator of the world; He is its maintainer. Nothing can exist without Him constantly infusing energy into it. If Hashem ever got angry, He wouldn’t need to zap a person. He wouldn’t need to bring about a nuclear holocaust. All He would need to do is stop imparting energy into that person and that person would cease to be.
Hashem Can’t Get Angry
In truth, though, Hashem can’t get angry; such emotions are completely foreign to His existence. The reason I get angry is because I’m frustrated by my lack of power and control. But nothing is beyond Hashem; nothing is beyond His control.
Yes, Hashem gives free will to man – He gives us the ability to make choices – but He governs the outcome. We control our intentions; Hashem controls the results. If man chooses evil, Hashem will sometimes allow him to succeed in being evil, and sometimes He won’t. But at no point is Hashem not in control. So, the concept of Hashem being angry is philosophically impossible. It has no relevance to Him.
When the Torah speaks of “Hashem’s anger,” it refers to Hashem acting with what we perceive as anger. As limited physical beings we relate to consequences, and Hashem acts in a way that we can relate to. But it is all essentially an illusion. Yes, Hashem punishes, but not because He is “angry.” He isn’t seeking vengeance, or retribution; rather, He is seeking the good of the person, hoping to direct him, to mitigate the wrong done, or to help him atone for his sin.
Now we can understand Rashi’s comment. Yes, the Jews Hashem counted would later be punished and die in the desert. But that didn’t mean that Hashem didn’t love them. In fact, Hashem’s love for the Jewish people is beyond human understanding. The Chovos HaLevovos writes that the love of the most merciful, kind, giving person imaginable isn’t one 10,000th, 10,000th, 10,000th the love that Hashem has for all of His creations.
If Hashem later punished the Jewish nation, He did so with the same motivation that a parent disciplines a beloved child – not to “get even” with the child, but to ultimately help him become the person he can and should be.
This concept is very important to remember because sometimes we might feel, “I have no right to even stand in front of Hashem, let alone ask Him for things, after what I’ve done.” But understanding that human limitations don’t apply to Hashem allows us to recognize that Hashem loves us even more than we love ourselves, and only wants what is truly best for us.