Ki Tisa: Being Lifted Up and Being Counted

The following text by Reb Zalman is from this week’s Torah portion, Shabbos Ki Tisa. (Click here for Hebrew/English version). [Notes by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor]:

When you lift up the heads (i.e. take the sum) of the children of Israel according to their count, let each one give to Hashem an atonement for hir soul when they are counted, etc.” (Exodus 30:12)

[NOTE: Reb Zalman begins by noting a similarity between the counting of the census, (cf Rashi on Exodus 30:15), and the counting of worshippers in a minyan.]

Through the minyan of davenners in which they count those of Klal Yisrael who make a minyan / quorum of worshippers, they do it through lifting the heads

[NOTE: Think of “lifting the heads” in this regard as “raising the consciousness” or awareness.]

of all the children of Israel who came. For in a minyan, it is, as the quote says, (Chronicles II 17:6), “And hir heart was lifted up” through knowing Hir, for in the ways of Havaye, worshippers see themselves together with every Jew and one enters, because of this, into a sense of (Psalms: 47:5) “the pride of Yaakov.”

[NOTE: This piece is based upon many double entendres, in this case, being lifted up and being counted. Both derive from the root, נשא nun-sin-aleph, with a primary meaning of lifting up, (cf., Genesis 40:13, “Yisa Pharaoh Et Roshecha” / Pharaoh will lift up your head.) In the context of our text, Tisa Et Rosh is understood as “Taking the sum,” or counting.]

And indeed, regarding the matter of raising awareness, how truly wonderful and excellent it is to lift and to raise the head – for, “The mind rules the heart,” and “The middot / emotional attributes are offspring of Chabad / the intellectual faculties” –

[NOTE: Tanya Ch. 3]

however the point is that the raising of awareness should be according to each one’s own basic nature, but not that any single one should arrogate hirself over the other.

For in truth, anyone, when s/he is counted, stands. As it is written: (Deut 29:9) “And you are all standing, etc, your heads / (i.e. leaders), etc., and the water drawers and the woodcutters,” but if the latter didn’t deal with hir situation, the former would not have been able to deal with hir own accounting, and thus, “Let each one give an atonement for hir soul,”

[NOTE: Because we are all part of the organism of Klal Yisrael, each one contributes his own perspective.   And no single one can claim to be better than the other. 

This is similar to what Reb Zalman has taught about religions in general:  All religions are vital organs of the planet, each with its particular function.  “If my heart suddenly wanted to become liver, I could not survive.”  Thus, each religion must remain with its particular way of relating to God.

Similarly, each Jew is a vital organ of Klal Yisrael.  That diversity is vital, making the totality healthier. 

As we each raise our consciousnesses, we must also preserve and respect one another’s perspectives.]

i.e. what needs cleanup in one’s own soul, and one’s own self, and in this way, to redeem what needs to be redeemed by giving of “half a shekel according to the holy shekel.”

[NOTE: The image is a scale with two pans that balance. One puts the coins on one side and on the other side, one puts a stone of the proper weight.  Reb Zalman builds on a double meaning of Shekel which, in the context of the parashah, is a coin. The root of the word, שקל shin-kuf-lamed means “to weigh” or “to balance.”]

For when one considers one’s being, s/he will weigh hirself on the holiness scale, but there is also on the scale, a half of unholiness. And offsetting that half is the baggage – the weight – of hirself and the good in hir. However, this is almost impossible to do unless one has at a minimum an honest friend, sounding boards for one another in partnership according to the shekel – the weight – of holiness.

[NOTE: I’ve heard Reb Zalman quote the Lubavitcher Rebbe regarding the value of having a friend with whom one can do the work of cheshbon hanefesh / an accounting of one’s soul. When two people work on figuring out what’s right, “it’s two yetzer haTov-s / inclinations for good against one yetzer haRa / evil inclination, so the yetzer haRa will not prevail.”)]

And the silver gathered will be given for the public works,

[NOTE: The setting of the original collection was for the public works.  In this analogy, there is an aspect to the raising of consciousness which will also benefit the totality, the world of souls, the well-being of the world.]

and therefore, who else besides me will know if I have fulfilled my obligation, for surely, that which I have to do, no one else is given to do.  And against that, what another one does, I don’t have to do.  And in this way, it will be according to the tasks that are given.  For the ways of Hashem yitbarach are many – Many ways to a place – and the awarenesses of different people have to be different.

Let each one give to Hashem an atonement for hir soul when they are counted, etc., half a shekel according to the holy shekel. Twenty gerahs equal one shekel, etc.”

For in all your heart, i.e., regarding the two inclinations, (Mishnah Brachot 9:5), and twenty gerahs i.e. that which affects (mi-GaReH) and motivates one, it will be that the two of them, i.e., yetzer hatov v’yetzer hara, times ten aspects, (i.e. Sefiros), of soul, of the nefesh habehamit / animal soul and the nefesh haeloki / divine soul, will be on the level of “and they will give” uprightness and its opposite.

Who is giving and who is receiving? “The rich shall give no more and the poor shall give no less,” for it does not depend on the quantity of the funds – but rather, the longing,

[NOTE: The path of teshuvah is laid out alike for rich and for poor, for beinoni and for rasha. The Hebrew contains a play on words: K’safim / funds, kisufim / feeling ashamed.]

i.e., in the quality and in the intention one gives for raising one’s awareness and consciousness.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
from Yishmiru Daat (2009 revision),
Parashat Ki Tisa,” pp. 32-33

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