In the opening versed of the book of Bemidbar, God commands that the Israelites participate in a census (Num. 1:1–2), in preparation for the military conquest of the Promised Land and as an implicit reminder that, if counting every individual is such a priority, then every individual counts. Crucially, what one accomplishes isn’t quantified by a census. That one exists is.
As Rabbi Akiva used to say:
“Beloved is every person for they were created in the Divine Image. Especially beloved is one who knows that they have been created in the Divine Image. (Pirkei Avot 3:14)”
Today’s U.S. decennial census represents a modern version of the ancient practice, counts every resident in the United States as mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The purpose of a government counting its people (importantly, not only its citizens) is to find out what kinds of people a country contains, how they live, what they possess, how their economy functions, so that communities can determine where to build everything from schools to supermarkets, and from homes to hospitals. In other words, a census is designed to help the government know and care for every person effectively. Beloved is every person.
And for those who bemoan the largest peacetime mobilization of people, let us take to heart the wisdom of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who taught:
“Every soul is a diamond. Can one grow tired of counting diamonds?”