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22 Adar I 5784 - March 2, 2024

Parshat Ki Tisa

Rabbi's Reflections

-Rise Up!: Equal Value, Endless Potential-

Parshat Ki Tisa opens with a description of the first census taken of the Jewish people, as it says, “When you take a census of the Israelite people, according to their enrollment, each shall pay the Lord a ransom for himself on being enrolled…” (Shemot 30:12). In order to be counted, every Jewish male from the age of twenty years and up had to contribute a half-shekel, with the instruction that “the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less” (Ibid., 15). In his sefer, Derash Moshe, Rav Moshe Feinstein z’’l asks a simple question regarding the Torah’s language concerning the taking of the census. On a literal level, when the Torah describes how the people are to be counted, it says, “Ki Tisa,” “When you raise up the head of every Israelite.” If the Torah wanted us to know that the people were being counted, why didn’t it use a different, simpler, more obvious word for counting? Surely, there are many ways to say this in Hebrew! Why did it say, “When you raise up?” Rav Moshe offers the following explanation: “When we see someone who is not learning Torah, or engaged in mitzvot, they may say that the reason why they cannot do these tasks is because they are not good enough. ‘Who I am?’ they say to themselves. But this expression of humility and modesty is false, and may even lead one to error and perpetuate their own stagnation” (Derash Moshe, Parshat Ki Tisa 68). In other words, misplaced modesty and false humility may actually become obstacles in the path of a person’s own spiritual growth. If a person thinks, “How can I attend this class, I don’t know enough.” Then they will never learn and grow. If a person thinks, “How can I keep Shabbat or Kashrut, I don’t know enough?” then how will they ever try to see what they are actually capable of accomplishing? Indeed, modesty and humility have their place, but when they are used as excuses for not doing the things we are actually capable of doing, they become convenient crutches holding us back from attaining our spiritual potentials. 

It is for this reason that the Torah tells us “the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less.” Rav Moshe explains the fact that everyone was counted in the same way, with the same worth and value, means that each and every Jew has the same worth and value as the greatest Tzadik or the greatest Gadol. The most pious and learned Jew is not counted as having any more worth than any other Jew. Rather, everyone was counted the same. And this teaches us that every single Jew has the same value as even Moshe Rebbeinu, but we have to believe in ourselves enough to make the effort to make that so. When we realize this, we will soon realize that that sense of humility we thought we had for not acting on our aspirations was really our own ego talking all along – our own ego which says, “Why learn? What’s the point? I guess I’ll just stay home tonight.” Our own ego, which says, “Why try? How can I? I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’ve always done.” This is why the Torah says, “When you raise up,” because every Jew must feel that they are uplifted and as valuable as Moshe, that we have the same potential to become great, and that we are equally precious. Only when we feel uplifted in this way, can we feel inspired to strive to make our ideal-selves our real-selves.

This Shabbat, let us consider the incredible potential we all possess to become the people, the Jews, we wish to become. This Shabbat, let us commit ourselves to taking small, practical steps towards making our spiritual dreams our spiritual realities, because we all have the same value, and based on that fact, God seeks to raise us up equally. May we always take the path meant only for us, rather than the path of least resistance. May we always take the long road, rather than looking for short-cuts. May we always strive to attain our spiritual potentials rather than settling for what feels comfortable and familiar. God counts us all. God raises us all up on equal terms. However, it is ultimately up to us to become the people we wish to become, and lead the lives that deep-down, we wish to lead. 

Shabbat Shalom!

-Rabbi Dan

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