Lifting Our Heads
As John Maxwell says “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” According to as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks leadership requires knowing when you need to take a stand against a crowd or knowing when to be a peacemaker. The Torah reminds us in Parashat Ki Tissa about both individual and collective responsibility. In this Parasha, we see the first account of a census. G-d warns B’nai Yisrael not to count people directly, for a plague may come upon them. Instead, the census would be indirect; each person aged twenty and above would give a half shekel to G-d. Both the poor and rich alike were required to give (Shemot 30:11-15).
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
כִּ֣י תִשָּׂ֞א אֶת־רֹ֥אשׁ בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם֒ וְנָ֨תְנ֜וּ אִ֣ישׁ כֹּ֧פֶר נַפְשׁ֛וֹ לַיהֹוָ֖ה בִּפְקֹ֣ד אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה בָהֶ֛ם נֶ֖גֶף בִּפְקֹ֥ד אֹתָֽם׃
יִתְּנ֗וּ כָּל־הָֽעֹבֵר֙ עַל־הַפְּקֻדִ֔ים מַֽחֲצִ֥ית הַשֶּׁ֖קֶל בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ עֶשְׂרִ֤ים גֵּרָה֙ הַשֶּׁ֔קֶל מַֽחֲצִ֣ית הַשֶּׁ֔קֶל תְּרוּמָ֖ה לַֽיהֹוָֽה׃ | זֶ֣ה
כֹּ֗ל הָֽעֹבֵר֙ עַל־הַפְּקֻדִ֔ים מִבֶּ֛ן עֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וָמָ֑עְלָה יִתֵּ֖ן תְּרוּמַ֥ת יְהֹוָֽה׃
הֶֽעָשִׁ֣יר לֹֽא־יַרְבֶּ֗ה וְהַדַּל֙ לֹ֣א יַמְעִ֔יט מִֽמַּחֲצִ֖ית הַשָּׁ֑קֶל לָתֵת֙ אֶת־תְּרוּמַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶֽם׃
The premise is that by counting people directly, we are separating people from the community both physically and spiritually. Rashi tells us that things that have been numbered are subject to ayin hara, the evil eye. Therefore, things that have been numbered are subject to the influence of the “evil eye”, and therefore if you count them by their polls plague may befall them, as we find happened, in the days of David (II Samuel 24:10 and 15). The Gemara in Brachot tells us that after David HaMelech counted B’nai Yisrael, a plague ravaged the nation. The lesson we learn from this is that we must count indirectly and only for legitimate reasons. We learn from Saadia Gaon that the money collected was used for the congregational sacrifices, the construction of the laver, the making of the anointing oil, the sweet incense, and part of it was given to the Sanhedrin.
It is interesting to note the use of the word Rosh , (head) in the beginning of the Parasha. The first thing they were instructed to do was “lift their head.” According to Rabbi Aharon Loschak, this means that in order to prevent this type of catastrophe from occurring again, we must devote ourselves to higher pursuits, namely the study of Torah. He says “The more time you spend there, the more your head is uplifted, and along with it, everything else. The head leads the body, so when you ensure that your head is in the right place, your feelings and actions usually follow. It’s the reason why Jews throughout history have, come what may, picked up a book and engrossed themselves in the holy world of Torah. Through persecution, comfort, and everything in between, the Torah has always been our safe space into which we can retreat and uplift our minds, and, thereby, our hearts.”
Next, G-d instructs Moshe to make a copper laver for washing which would be for Aaron and his sons to wash their feet when they enter the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting). Then, we learn about the spices which were used for the anointing oil.
G-d says to Moshe to remind B’nai Yisrael about Shabbat. Rabbi Yitzchok Brieitowitz talks beautifully about the sanctity of Shabbat and the connection to the Mishkan. He says “Shabbat humbles us that we are not masters of the universe and it also empowers us in that the universe is not master of us. Shabbat is the epitome of subservience and subjugation, but also empowerment and freedom.” He adds “The Mishkan represented holiness of space, while Shabbat represents sanctity of time.” We don’t build or create on Shabbat. Instead, we take a break and rest, just as G-d did after creating the world. The word Melacha (work) that we are prohibited from doing on Shabbat refers to created acts that demonstrate mastery over raw materials of nature.
Part of our challenge in this world is having Emunah (faith). It is challenging because we only see half of the story. Events happen and we have no idea why. Only afterwards are we able to see the complete picture. We must have Emunah in G-d and that we can have a relationship with G-d. We must also have Emunah in ourselves. I’ll never forget hearing a leadership talk many years ago, and the woman on stage said “G-d doesn’t make junk.” It means that we are all created for a purpose, we have our own special talents, and that we have greatness within us!
The Torah tells us that when B’nai Yisrael saw that Moshe was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to make for them a god. They were insecure and didn’t feel they were worthy of having a relationship with G-d without Moshe. Aaron instructed them to gather gold from their wives, sons, and daughters. Aaron cast them into a mold and out came a Golden Calf. G-d became extremely angry and Moshe pleaded with him on behalf of Aaron and the people. Moshe descended the mountain and smashed the tablets containing the law upon seeing what the people had done. As a result, Moshe had to construct a new covenant that B'nai Yisrael would have to accept.
Moshe asked Aaron about what he did. The commentators say that Aaron knew the people were mistaken, but he was concerned that they would kill him if he disagreed. He felt that if he didn’t comply with what B'nai Yisrael wanted, they would find another way. The failure of B'nai Yisrael caused the nation to decrease their level of spirituality. Despite this, G-d forgave B’nai Yisrael and re-established the covenant.
Moshe and Aaron were different types of people, they complemented each other. As a whole, Judaism is a combination of individual and collective responsibility. We serve G-d as individuals, but we also serve G-d within our communities. May we continue to “lift up our heads”, and may we merit to see the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.