Friday, February 17, 2012

Parshas Shekalim 5633 First Ma'amar

This year Parshas Shekalim coincides with parshas Mishpatim.  In the first pasuk of parshas Mishpatim God tells Moshe Rabbeinu, "ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם/These are the laws that you shall set before them." (Shmos 21:1)  This is strange wording that we find nowhere else.  Why not the more conventional, "Speak to the children of Israel the following laws?"

The Rav of Parshischa explains that God is teaching the importance of the mitzvos.  He is telling Moshe that we must place the mitzvos before ourselves – on a higher level of importance that our own lives.  We, in fact, did this when we said to Moshe Rabbeinu at the end of this week's parsha, "נעשה ונשמע/We will do and we will listen." (Shmos 24:7)  We committed to do even before knowing what we were committing to do.  We were ready to deliver ourselves to God.  We were ready to do anything God required of us without a thought as to what that might be or how it might impact our lives.

God repeats this requirement in Iyov (41:3), "מי הקדימני ואשלם" which, according to the Sfas Emes translates as, "Whosoever will place My will before his own, I will reward."

This concept can help us understand an issue that arises in Parshas Shekalim.  The Torah does not favor counting people.[1]  Counting evokes importance and individuality.  When people are counted, each person is noted.  Counting implies that each person is unique.  When people are noted individually, rather than as part of a group, each person must stand on his own merits.  As part of a group, though, the merits of the group count for each individual even if there are people within the group who do not merit on their own.

In Parshas Shekalim, God instructs Moshe to conduct a census.  What about the issues raised by counting people?  The beginning of the parsha alludes to the answer.  "כי תשא את ראש בני ישראל לפקודיהם ונתנו איש כופר נפשו לה' .../When you take a census of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each man give a ransom for his soul to God …"  The literal translation of the beginning of this pasuk is, "When you raise up the head of the children of Israel according to their numbers …"  Shouldn't the word "head" be plural? 

The Sfas Emes explains that the "head" of the children of Israel is an allusion to our root or source.  Although we manifest as many different individuals in this physical world, the roots of our souls come together in the highest spiritual realm as one entity.  At our source we are one.  The Torah is advising us to identify with this reality – that the entire nation is, at its source, one.  By identifying with the entire nation, we are protected against being viewed individually and the need to stand scrutiny alone.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains, furthermore that that the word, ראש/head, alludes to Shabbos in this pasuk.  The literal translation, "When you raise the ראש/head …" tells us to look at the letters in the Hebrew alphabet that are above ראש.  The letters following ראש in the Hebrew alphabet are שבת.  On Shabbos the nation of Israel comes together with one will to recognize God as the Creator.  Here again, we see the concept of group instead of individuals in this pasuk.

Another hint to the same concept in this pasuk is from the word, "לפקודיהם/according to their numbers."  Chazal[2] refer to mitzvos as, "פקודי ה'/God's commands."  This word then, alludes to the mitzvos.  The pasuk is telling us that we can raise ourselves up to our source in which we are all one entity through the mitzvos.  How?  The pasuk continues, "ונתנו איש כופר נפשו לה'/Each man will give a ransom of his soul to God ..."  When we place the importance of the mitzvah on a higher level than ourselves, we are automatically raised up to our source where we are all one. 

By subordinating ourselves to the performance of the mitzvos – through mesirus nefesh in performance of the mitzvos – as the Rav of Parshischa taught us in the beginning of parshas Mishpatim, we connect with our source which is one with every other member of the nation of Israel at the highest spiritual place.  We are then protected from the individual scrutiny implied by the census.

[1] See for example Shmuel 2, 24
[2] Zohar 2:90b, 93b


Anonymous said...

"stand on his own merits"...or
"the merits of the group"

then wouldn't grouping, while it helps individuals who're less meritorious than the group average, hurt those who're more meritorious than that average?
should each individual suppose
himself to be in the former class, & so gratefully group with others (should everyone count on losing themselves in the group?)?

Moshe David Tokayer said...

It's not a mathematical equation. The entity of the nation of Israel at its source is more than the sum of its parts. The nation as an entity is protected and merits God's favor for many reasons even if individually we do not deserve that protection or favor.

For example, final redemption will happen because it is God's promise to the nation, regardless of our merits as individuals.

Anonymous said...

but many times the "nation as an
entity" is punished, while individuals escape that hit!
the nation as a whole may well deserve detruction, & is only promised that a 'remnant' will survive!
potential geirim are warned --as individuals-- of the persecuted status of the group!
Moshe alone was "more than the sum
of its parts", as Hashem offered to
make a nation through him!
if "final redemption" will occur
regardless of merits (owing rather to a "promise"), then "the merits of the group" are irrelevant too!
(more, final redemption will be known firsthand to only a very small percentange of all the Jews who've ever lived-- truly corporate Jewry will experience
no such thing)...