Sefer BaMidbar begins with Hashem commanding Moshe Rabbeinu to count the Jewish people: in essence, to conduct a census of the entire nation. For this reason, as well, Sefer BaMidbar is also referred to as “Sefer HaP’kudim” or “Numbers” as it is known in English. Rashi comments that Hashem counts the Jewish people many times in the Torah, but not because He does not know their full amount, chas v’shalom. Obviously, Hashem does not demand a census because He requires an exact count. Rather, the act of counting is demanded because of the incredible love Hashem has for us and He wishes to display this love by continuously enumerating our ranks. The Ibn Ezra adds a short yet poignant comment: Hashem only counts B’nei Yisrael, to the exclusion of the Eirev Rav, those people who joined our nation after the Exodus from Egypt, since only B’nei Yisrael are beloved in His eyes – not those rabble rousers who bring His people to sin.
For centuries, a majority of Jerusalem’s population was Sephardic. One of the most influential families was the Meyuchas family, which traced its lineage in Jerusalem to the post-Spanish expulsion period of the late 15th century. The great Chacham Raphael ben Shmuel Meyuchas zt”l was born in Jerusalem and later served as Rishon L’Tziyon (Sephardic Chief Rabbi) from 1756 until his death in 1771. Chacham Raphael Meyuchas authored numerous scholarly works and was highly respected by Jew and Arab alike. He was a proponent of peace among all the factions living in the holy city of Jerusalem at the time, and he even encouraged the small but entrenched Karaite community to send their children to mainstream religious schools. His intentions were pure, as he hoped that by bringing this fringe group of Jews (Karaites only believe in the Written Torah and not Torah She’b’al Peh, which includes all the Rabbinical mitzvos) closer to true Torah Judaism, he could influence them to embrace the proper path of observance – but alas, it was to no avail.
During his tenure as Rishon L’Tziyon, the Arab overlords issued a harsh decree forcing all the various Jewish k’hilos to pay an exorbitant tax – an impossible request even in the best of times. Jerusalemites were notoriously poor, and there was no way they would be able to come up with the sums being demanded. An emergency meeting was called and the large Karaite synagogue was selected as the meeting place. All the heads of the Jerusalem k’hilos were invited to attend and discuss what options were available to them. Chacham Raphael Meyuchas led the Sephardic delegation.
When the imposing figure of the Rishon L’Tziyon arrived, all those present stood up in respect and watched as he entered the large synagogue doors and made his way down the staircase to the floor of the main sanctuary. Suddenly, Chacham Raphael’s feet seemed to become entangled and he tripped and fell down the remaining few steps. Everyone rushed to assist the rabbi and thankfully he wasn’t hurt, but his attendants were suspicious and wondered what could have made him fall so mysteriously. As the Chacham gingerly made his way to his seat of honor, one of the attendants hung back and stuck his hand under the steps, where he found soft dirt concealing an old book. Curious, the man reached in and pulled out the book, which turned out to be a copy of the Rambam’s sefer Yad HaChazakah. He held it up and showed it to Chacham Raphael who determined that the Karaites had placed this holy book into the dirt purposely to denigrate the works of the holy tzadik, Rabbeinu Moshe ben Maimon zt”l, and to ensure that every person who walked down the steps would tread upon it. These wicked people despised the Rambam and how he had codified all the laws of the Torah – the Written and the Oral commandments – into one authoritative book, a book by which Torah Jews live their lives.
Without further ado, Chacham Raphael stood up and stormed out of the synagogue, slowing down just long enough to issue a curse that the Karaites will never be allowed to join in with the rest of the Jewish people in the holy city.
Approximately 80 years later, at a time when the Karaite community of Jerusalem had shriveled in size with barely a minyan of families remaining, a group of some 20 Karaites wished to move up to the city and complement the tiny community. However, within days after their arrival, a terrible epidemic broke out and wiped out the newcomers. The Karaites never did have a minyan!