Parshas Ki Sisa
Raise Your Head
The Torah commands that a count of the Jewish people should be undertaken.
Such a count was in fact taken a number of times during the sojourn of the
people of Israel in the Sinai desert. What is noteworthy is the language –
the words the Torah uses in ordering this count to take place.
The literal translation of those words is “When you raise the heads of the
Jewish people to assess their numbers…” The Torah does not state simply
“when you count the people of Israel.” Instead it teaches us a very
important lesson in Jewish and family life. A person who is counted and
considers himself or herself to be part of the Jewish people has to do so by
being a person with a raised head. That person has to feel that he or she is
special, chosen, set aside for a particular mission in life. The raised head
is the symbol of Jewish pride and determination.
The count of the Jewish people is not meant to be merely numerical. It is
far more profound and meaningful. It is really a count-me-in type of
equation. Thus the task of the leader of the people is not only to come up
with an accurate population number but, perhaps even more importantly, to
inspire and raise those being counted to a greater understanding of their
role and purpose in being part of the Jewish people. For eventually, being
counted as a member of the Jewish people requires commitment, effort and
constant personal development.
We are all aware of the injunction not to count Jews directly, as in this
week’s parsha, where they were counted by the number of half shekels
collected by the census takers. We read in the book of Shmuel that King Saul
counted the Jewish people by assessing the number of individual sheep. The
same lesson is involved in this rule as the idea mentioned in the previous
paragraph – that the true count of the people of Israel is never only in the
raw number of people present. It is in the worth of the individual, the
pride and self-esteem of being Jewish - and that is not something that can
easily be assessed by a number.
Coins and sheep are susceptible to being counted numerically – not the
Jewish people or for that matter any human being. The influence of a life is
something not given to physical measurement or numerical count. The Torah
commands us to raise our heads, to become more knowledgeable, devoted and
committed to its holy values, observances and spiritual outlook. Each
individual Jew must feel and believe that he or she is special, unique,
vital and necessary for the whole nation to exist and prosper.
People who feel “there is no difference if I am Jewish, observant, or part
of a people” do themselves and the Jewish people as a whole a great
disservice. Only those who proudly raise their heads are truly part of the
eternal count of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Berel Wein