Parashat Vayikra

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

“What we declare when we answer the Census is that we are here, and we are part of ‘we the people’ and we refuse to be excluded.”

—from Census 2020 Get Out the Count Toolkit

A few weeks ago, information about responding to Census 2020 landed in residential mailboxes across the country. People received login codes and information on participating in Census 2020 online, the first time our country has utilized digital technology to complete this legally mandated task. The U.S. Constitution stipulates that a nationwide census – a counting of all people in the country – be performed every ten years. The information from the census determines many aspects of our country’s operations, from the number of representatives in Congress to the number of seats in a kindergarten class.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, details the sacrificial offerings people should make in response to different personal life incidents or needs: offerings if a person has sinned, if a person is giving thanks, if a person is recovering from an illness. There are also sacrifices that are made on behalf of others, by appointed leaders or other community members. These offerings are performed not just for the individual, but for the sake of, protect the spiritual foundation and balance of the population at large.

When we participate in Census 2020, our count helps others. It goes towards ensuring that our neighbor’s family, as well as our own, has access to schools and health care. It helps determine funding for fire departments and roads and infrastructure. It strengthens our community – especially now, in a time of public health crisis. An accurate census would, among other things, help law makers and government officials see where hospitals and medical care is most needed, ensuring access to the most vulnerable in our communities.

This Shabbat, while we can’t gather together in communal spaces, we can each do something for the long-term good of our communities – by commiting to completing the census questionnaire. This is the offering you can bring, the actionable prayer you can make on behalf of your community without leaving your home.

Want to learn more about this quintessentially American civic obligation? Check out my conversation with Ali Rosenblatt, a legislative assistant for the Reform Action Center (RAC) who is working on this issue in our community and beyond.