Mystically, the census of the Israelites was preparation for an influx of divine revelation.
From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
This week's Torah portion begins:
G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: "When you count [literally "lift the heads of", referring to a head count] the Children of Israel according to their [military] assignments, each man will give an atonement for his soul to G‑d when you tally them. Thus there shall not be a plague among them when you tally them. This is what they will give, all those who pass by the tally: a half shekel of the Sanctuary shekel - this shekel is twenty gerah - [they will give] a half of this shekel as a donation to G‑d. All those who pass by the tally, from the age of twenty and older, will give this donation of G‑d. The wealthy will not give more and the poor will not give less than half of this shekel when giving the donation of G‑d to atone for their souls.'" (Ex. 30:11-15)
This [idiom of "lifting the head"] refers to the returning ascent of the lights [of keter], this being the allusion of the hair [on the back of the head].
For keter comprises ten [sub-sefirot], and the netzach and hod within it are states of judgment.
Keter is anatomically identified with the skull. Although netzach, being on the right axis of the sefira-tree, is principally associated with chesed, its quality of "victory" requires an element of gevura as well.
chanoch adds:This is my opinion and somewhat off nof this discussion. The above comment can be seen as a ixing of the energy of good and evil sad the universe progresses from total spirituality nto total physicality.
These [sub-sefirot] return and ascend as "reflected light" ["or chozer"]. This is because the more all the other attributes extend [below and become manifest], the more merciful they become. But the more the states of judgment extend [below and become manifest], the stronger the element of judgment becomes.
The lower a state of chesed extends, the more merciful it must become….
The lower a state of chesed extends, the more merciful it must become, since the lower the level, the less divine consciousness it possesses, and therefore the more it requires mercy. In contrast, the lower a state of judgment extends, the more judgmental it becomes, since the lower the level, the less divine consciousness it evinces, and the more there is to find fault with.
They therefore have to ascend back so that the element of judgment can be fragranced.
The attributes of netzach and hod have to be re-infused with the original "idea" of keter, or will, in order to remain true to its vision and not get carried away in their enthusiasm to transmit it. This re-infusion is called "fragrancing".
chanoch adds: or sweetening.
All of this applies to the "inner light' ["or penimi"] that enters keter. But ["encompassing light" - "or makif " - alluded to by] the kings [of Tohu] who died issued before these states of judgment. Because they were not fragranced, they died. But these, which were fragranced, endured. That is why they must ascend to be fragranced.
Hairs are like pipelines through which light travels and issues….
The lights of Tohu, alluded to by the kings of Edom who died, were also states of judgment. Each sefira of Tohu was purely itself and did not contain within it any element of the other sefirot. Therefore, each one related to the others judgmentally, not allowing any room for the perspectives expressed by them. This is why the world of Tohu was unstable and collapsed. In order to avoid the same fate, the sefirot of Tikun must be "fragranced".
Now, hairs are like pipelines through which light travels and issues, and [their shape] is like the letter vav.
The letter vav is essentially a straight line, similar to a hair.
Netzach and hod [of keter] are therefore called "the Children of Israel". For inside the head there is a membrane, which is like a firmament, which in turn corresponds to tiferet, which in turn is indicated by the vav [of the name Havayah].
There is a membrane inside the skull surrounding the brain. In Kabbalah, this membrane is a manifestation of tiferet of keter. Tiferet is the border between the primary emotions - chesed and gevura - and the secondary emotions - netzach, hod, and yesod. It is therefore similar to the firmament, which divides between the "upper water" (atmospheric moisture) and the "lower water" (oceans and seas, etc.).
Just as netzach and hod issue from tiferet, the hair is considered to be rooted in the membrane between the brain and the inner surface of the skull.
The fact that tiferet is indicated by the vav of the name Havayah and netzach and hod are indicated by the head hairs, shaped like the letter vav, indicates that they are thematically linked.
They ascend [out of the head] and split through this firmament, which corresponds to the letter vav [of the name Havayah], and thus acquire its properties and assume the shape of the letter vav.
They are therefore called "the Children of Israel", since they issue from him.
The patriarch Jacob, also known as "Israel", is associated with the sefira of tiferet. Since netzach and hod are derived from tiferet, they are the "Children of Israel".
chanoch adds: In my opinion, who is a child of Israel can now be seen clearly as a level of consciousness and not who has a Jewish mother.
Now, the purpose of these hairs is to cover the neck, so the forces of evil cannot gaze at it.
By covering the neck, the hair hides it from the view of the forces of evil, which are always positioned behind….
By covering the neck, the hair hides it from the view of the forces of evil, which are always positioned behind the partzuf. If they do not see the neck, they cannot derive any sustenance from it.
This is the [mystical] meaning of the phrase "When you lift up the head of the Children of Israel", referring to how the [light that issues from the] hair re-ascends [to be "fragranced"].
The process of "lifting up the head" is accomplished by giving a half-shekel. The image of a half-shekel implies weighing two half-shekels on a scale to make sure they are equal. Indeed, the word "shekel" means "weight".
The notion of a scale [in Hebrew, "mishkal"] is associated with hair, as follows:
The word "mishkal" is spelled mem-shin-kuf-lamed.
The name Havayah can be spelled-out with the letter yud. [In this case, the full-spelling out uses four yud's.] The four yud's in the divine name Ab [= 72] are alluded to by the letters shin-kuf of the word "mishkal", for each yud is inter-included to 100, thus giving the numerical value of shin-kuf [= 400].
The divine name Ab [= 72] is spelled yud-vav-dalet hei-yud vav-yud-vav hei-yud, as we have seen previously. The numerical value of yud is 10, alluding to the ten sefirot. Each sefira is inter-includes ten sub-sefirot and 100 sub-sub-sefirot. The combined numerical value of the 4 inter-inter-included yud's is thus 400.
Shin-kuf = 300 + 100 = 400.
The mem [of "mishkal"] alludes to the four yud's themselves.
The numerical value of mem is 40, which is 4 x 10.
The lamed [of mishkal] alludes to a simple yud together with a spelled-out yud, the combined numerical value of which is 30.
The numerical value of lamed is 30. The numerical value of yud is 10; the numerical value of a spelled-out yud (yud-vav-dalet = 10 + 6 + 4) is 20. 10 + 20 = 30.
Thus, this word alludes entirely to the letter yud.
There are numerous locks of hair on the head, each one containing 500 hairs….
Corresponding to this, the First Temple stood 410 years (Yoma 9a), this number being the equivalent of four [inter-inter-included] yud's  plus the yud itself . And the Second Temple stood 420 years (ibid.), this being the equivalent of the four [inter-inter-included] yud's  plus a spelled-out yud .
The allusion to this is in the word for "crushed" [in Hebrew, "katit"].
The oil used for the Menora in the Holy Temple had to be "crushed" (Ex. 27:20). The word for "crushed" is "katit", spelled kaf-taf-yud-taf. This may be viewed as a compound of the two half-words kaf-taf (20 + 400 = 420, alluding to the 420 years of the Second Temple) and yud-taf (10 + 400 = 410, alluding to the 410 years of the First Temple).
All these levels [alluded to by the word "mishkal"] are in chochma, which is termed "holy," as is known.
"Holy" in Hebrew implies "removed", "separate", and chochma is considered "separate" from the other sefirot in that it is a direct revelation of the supra-conscious levels of the soul.
For this name Ab [= 72] is associated with chochma, which is holy.
As we have seen previously, the four spellings-out of the name Havayah are associated with the four letters of the name itself, which in turn are associated with the four partzufim of Abba, Imma, Zeir Anpin, and Nukva.
The word for "holy" [in Hebrew, "kodesh"] alludes to the kuf-shin, [which allude in turn to] the four [inter-inter-included] yud's of the name Ab [= 72], and the dalet [of "kodesh"] alludes to the four letters of the name Havayah itself.
"Kodesh" is spelled kuf-dalet-shin. The first and third of these three letters can be seen to carry the same allusion they did above. The dalet, whose numerical value is 4, alludes to the four letters of the name Havayah.
All this applies to the hair [of the head]. This is also the [mystical] idea behind "the shekel of the Sanctuary".
The latter phrase literally reads, "the holy shekel", or "the shekel of holiness", referring to the shekel at the level of chochma.
This is also the [mystical] meaning of the word for "according to their assignments". For all counting is related to hairs. This is why there are numerous locks [of hair on the head], each one containing 500 hairs.
The word for "assignments" (in Hebrew, "pekudim") in this verse is also a synonym for "counting".
Now, the half-shekel that the Israelites had to give caused the lights of Arich Anpin to issue, as noted in the Zohar.
Arich Anpin is the partzuf of keter, as we have seen previously.
This is the [mystical] meaning of the phrase "each man will give an atonement for his soul", for Arich Anpin is the "soul" of the whole world of Atzilut.
Arich Anpin of any world is the divine will to create that world….
Arich Anpin of any world is the divine will to create that world. Thus, Arich Anpin of Atzilut is the Divine will that brings Atzilut into being and sustains it.
chanoch adds: What is the difference between “bringing something into being” and “sustaining this thing”? The answer has two aspects - 1. the quantity difference between the energy used. 2. How long does a “state of being last?. Since we are taught that Creationis constantly being recreated one might assume that “being brought into existence and being sustained are similar if not the same. Remember, the world of Atzilut is above the world of creation and may not be constantly recreated.
And since, when the hair grows, it covers the neck so the forces of evil cannot gain a foothold there, it therefore prevents the occurrence of "a plague among them". On the contrary, they produce additional light, causing the forces of evil to distance themselves more.
Now, in the middle of the head there is a pathway empty of hair [the "part"]. There is hair on the head on either side [of this "part"].
This [pathway] is a manifestation of yesod, which is called the "pathway" [in Hebrew, "orach"]. This is why it is devoid of hair; for the hair on either side is from netzach and hod while the middle pathway is from yesod.
This is alluded to by the phrase "this is what they will give", for yesod is termed "this".
There are two demonstrative pronouns in Hebrew, one masculine ("zeh") and one feminine ("zot"). The masculine alludes to yesod and the feminine to malchut.
It is also termed "all" [in Hebrew, "kol"].
In the verse, "Unto You, O G‑d, are the greatness [referring to chesed] and the might [gevura] and the glory [tiferet] and the victory [netzach] and the majesty [hod], for all [yesod] that is in heaven and earth, to You, O G‑d, is the kingdom [malchut]…," (Chronicles I 29:10) the word "all" refers to yesod. This is because yesod is the interface between the higher sefirot and their expression, through malchut, into the lower world, just as a foundation is the interface between a building and the earth beneath it.
It "passes between the tallies", which are netzach and hod, for the latter are the tallies of the "Children of Israel", i.e. of netzach and hod.
The phrase "all who pass by the tally" can be read "yesod [alluded to by 'all'] passes between netzach and hod [alluded to by the tallies of the Israelites]".
This is why the Sanctuary shekel weighed twenty gerah, for the numerical value of the word "gerah" [plus the kolel] is the same as that of the word for "pathway" ["orach" = 208].
"Gerah" is spelled: gimel-reish-hei = 3 + 200 + 5 = 208.
"Orach" is spelled: alef-reish-chet = 1 + 200 + 8 = 209.
They had to give half a shekel because the male yesod takes [its content] from the right side, i.e. from netzach and not from hod.
Only males were soldiers.
This is the meaning of the phrase "The wealthy will not give more and the poor will not give less than half of this shekel". "The wealthy" refers to tiferet. It has no more than ten, for it is composed of yud's. "The poor" refers to yesod. It must also give no less than ten, so it must also give ten gerah, which is half a shekel.
This is all I found written.
Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Ta'amei HaMitzvot, parashat Ki Tisa; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."
From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
Kabbalah teaches that when we honor both the male and female aspects of Shabbat, we will be redeemed.
This Torah reading includes the commandment to build certain vessels of the Tabernacle. After these commandments, G‑d tells the Jewish people that, as important and constructing the Tabernacle is, it must not supercede their observance of the Shabbat:
And G‑d said to Moses, saying, 'You shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: But you will keep My Shabbats, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, G‑d, sanctify you." (Ex. 31:12-13)
Regarding the meaning of these verses, we must explain why, when G‑d addresses Moses, He usually does not phrase His command as it is phrased here.
The usual phrasing is "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them…" or "Say to the children of Israel...". Here, it says "You shall speak …", emphasizing the word you.
In order to explain this, we will first explain another discrepancy. The Ten Commandments are recorded twice in the Torah. The first time is in the historical context of when they were given at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20:2-14), and the second time is in the context of Moses' review of the Exodus just before He passes away at the end of the forty-year trek in the desert (Deut. 5:6-18). These two versions of the Ten Commandments are largely the same, but there are some slight differences, which allude to various things.
chanoch adds: There are actually 32 differences in the 2 versions of the Esser Debrot. In my opinion these differences are not slight. Also there are numerous versions within the different aects of the western world relions. I can think of at least 10 different versions.
The two versions of the first verse of the commandment to keep the Shabbat compare as follows:
first version - second version
Remember the Shabbat day to keep it holy. - Guard the Shabbat day to keep it holy, as G‑d, your Lord, commanded you.
Similarly, [the commandment] to honor parents does not include the words "in order that it be well with you, as [G‑d, your Lord,] commanded you".
zeir Anpin and Nukva…are referred to as the 'two Shabbats'…
The next commandment after the commandment to keep the Shabbat is the commandment to honor parents. These two versions of this commandment compare as follows:
first version - second version
Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be long on the land G‑d, your Lord, is giving to you. - Honor your father and your mother, as G‑d, your Lord, commanded you, in order that your days be long and in order that it be well with you on the land that G‑d, your Lord, is giving you.
To explain: These two commandments, observing the Shabbat and honoring parents, are equivalent. The [latter] is honoring one's bodily parents, while the [former] is honoring one's spiritual parents, i.e. Zeir Anpin and Nukva, who are referred to as the "two Shabbats" in the Sages' statement that "if the Jewish people would keep two Shabbats properly, [they would be redeemed immediately]." (Shabbat 118b)
Inasmuch as every Jewish soul is produced by the union of Zeir Anpin and Nukva, these partzufim may be considered our spiritual "parents".
The Sages' statement that we would be redeemed if we would keep two Shabbats is usually understood to mean two Shabbats in a row. Elsewhere, however, the Arizal, however, comments that the mystical meaning of this statement is that we must keep the two aspects of the Shabbat, the feminine and masculine aspects, which are the Shabbat night and the Shabbat day. Thus, the two Shabbats are clearly Zeir Anpin and Nukva, and by "honoring" them, that is, observing the Shabbat in accordance with its mystical dynamics, we fulfill the commandment to honor our "parents" spiritually, and will be redeemed.
This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "Everyone must fear his mother and his father, and keep My Shabbats." (Lev. 19:3) [The fact that the Shabbat is here referred to in the plural alludes to] these two Shabbats, which correspond to the father and the mother.
They must not observe the Shabbat for their own benefit, but rather because these are My Shabbats….
Now, there are two aspects of [observing the] Shabbat. The first is to observe the [laws of] the Shabbat in all their details, in order to fulfill the commandment that He (may He be blessed) commanded us, and not for any other motive. The second is to rest from work on the Shabbat because we enjoy the fact that we rest from our work.
You know the Sages' explanation of [the liturgical passage,] "Let Moses rejoice in the portion he was given", that Moses asked Pharaoh to grant the Jewish people one day off a week from making bricks in order that they have strength to produce more on the other six days. Pharaoh agreed, and gave them the Shabbat off. (Shemot Rabba 1:32; Midrash Tehillim 119)
This, then, is what the Torah intends [to imply] by saying "You shall speak to the children of Israel…": [G‑d tells Moses,] "You, [Moses,] who asked Pharaoh to give them a day of rest, i.e. the Shabbat, must now yourself go tell them that from now on they must not observe the Shabbat for their own benefit, but rather because these are My Shabbats. I am the one obligating them to observe this commandment; therefore, they should observe it only for My sake, and not for their own." This is why the word "But" is prefaced to this verse. It implies that they should observe [the Shabbat] only because they are "My Shabbats, for it is a sign…to know that I, G‑d, sanctify" them, and not for their own benefit or enjoyment.
The passive aspect of observing the Shabbat…opens us up to the heightened divine consciousness informing reality....
There is, of course, nothing wrong with enjoying observing G‑d's commandments, but this motivation must always be held in its proper perspective. We must always observe all of G‑d's commandments unconditionally, as an expression of our unconditional love for Him. As Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi put it: "If G‑d had commanded us to simply chop wood [for no apparent reason], we would chop wood with the utmost enthusiasm." Once we have committed ourselves to observing the commandments unconditionally, there is also room for appreciating their tangible benefits.
As I said, the plural "My Shabbats" alludes to Zeir Anpin and Nukva. The first [version of the Ten] Commandments does not include the words "as [G‑d, your Lord,] commanded you", in order that it allude to the first reason [for observing the Shabbat], the one that includes the reason of [the Jewish People's] benefit. This [aspect of] the commandment is the one that our human logic can relate to, and it [i.e. our logic] decrees that [we should observe the Shabbat] "in order that your ox and your donkey [rest]…". (Ex. 23:12)
In the second [version of the Ten] Commandments, the Torah mentions the second reason, which is [solely] in order to fulfill the Creator's command, this being the meaning of the phrase "as G‑d, your Lord, commanded you".
This explains also why [in the second version of the Ten Commandments, the commandment to keep the Shabbat] begins "Guard the Shabbat day to keep it holy." The second [version of the Ten] Commandments is from the female principle, which is alluded to by the word "guard", as is known. (Zohar III:224a)
The Hebrew word for "remember", "zachor", is related to the word for "male" ("zachor"). "Remembering" is the active aspect of observing the Shabbat, and refers to the active declaration of the day's holiness made at its beginning (in Kiddush) and end (in Havdalah). "Guarding" is the passive aspect of observing the Shabbat, and refers to the passive cessation from work, which opens us up to the heightened divine consciousness informing reality on the Shabbat.
[The feminine principle] now [i.e. in the second version of the Ten Commandments,] tells the Jewish people: "Guard the Shabbat day, as Zeir Anpin - alluded to by the words 'G‑d, your Lord' - has already commanded you previously, in the first [version of the Ten] Commandments."
The name for G‑d in the phrase "G‑d, your Lord" is the divine name Havayah, which is associated with Zeir Anpin.
Now, there are also two reasons for [observing the commandment of] honoring parents. The first is because it is a commandment dictated by human logic, namely, that a child must honor his father and mother because they created him, brought him into the world, and ceaselessly exerted themselves on his behalf. The second is in order to allude to His commandment to honor our spiritual father and mother, i.e. the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Community of Israel, that is, Zeir Anpin and Nukva.
By keeping the commandment to honor one's physical parents, we increase the life-force reaching this world….
The Sages typically refer to G‑d as "the Holy One, blessed be He". In Kabbala, this appellation is said to refer to Zeir Anpin, which is "holy", i.e. "removed" from the world, relative to Nukva, which descends into the lower realms, as we know. The Sages often refer to the Divine Presence, or the Shechina, as "the Community of Israel" (Knesset Yisrael), indicating that it is the collective origin of all Jewish souls, the womb from which they emerge as they descend from Atzilut into the lower worlds.
In the first [version of the Ten] Commandments, the Torah mentions the first reason, by saying "in order that your days be long", referring to the increase of the six extremities [of Zeir Anpin], which are called "the six days of Creation".
The six "extremities" of Zeir Anpin are the six sefirot that metamorphose into this partzuf: chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, hod, and yesod. They are called "extremities" since they are associated with the six directions of the three dimensions of space. These six sefirot are associated as well with the six days of Creation. The association with the dimensions of space and the days of Creation (i.e. time) alludes to that aspect of Zeir Anpin that forms the conceptual framework for the physical world. In other words, by keeping the commandment to honor one's physical parents, we increase the life-force reaching this world. This divine beneficence is expressed in this world as long life.
Performing this commandment for its spiritual motivation will cause one's intellect to mature….
But the second [version of the Ten Commandments] refers to the proper, spiritual reason for performing this commandment, which produces an abundance of divine beneficence, and therefore two types of reward are mentioned. The first is "in order that your days be long", referring to the increase of the six extremities, as mentioned. In addition, [there is the reward of] "in order that it be well with you", which refers to the influx of higher mentality. Mentality is alluded to by the word for "good" or "well" [in Hebrew, "tov"], as we have explained in our commentary on the phrase "who does good deeds of loving-kindness [chasadim tovim]" in the first blessing of the Standing Prayer. This indicates that performing this commandment for its spiritual motivation will cause one's intellect to mature, as well. This is why [in the context of this reason] it is written, "as G‑d [Havayah], your Lord, commanded you."
By observing this commandment on the spiritual level, honoring Zeir Anpin and Nukva by increasing divine consciousness in the world, we are rewarded in kind: we achieve a higher level of divine consciousness and spiritual maturity.
Another allusion to the above may be found in the fact that the word "et" alludes to an additional entity. The two words "et"in the verse "Honor your father and your mother" allude to your spiritual, supernal father and mother, i.e. Zeir Anpin and Nukva.
The Hebrew particle "et" is usually not translated into English and serves simply to indicate the direct object. However, the Sages often interpret its presence in verse to indicate an allusion to something besides the explicit object of the verb. Here, the "et" before the word for "father" alludes to Zeir Anpin and the "et" before the word for "mother" alludes to Nukva.
Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Torah and Shaar HaPesukim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."
By donating a half-shekel, we could once again hold our heads high.
From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz
The word "head", in Hebrew "rosh", in the verse: When you take a census…"[literally, 'When you lift up the head…'], (Ex.30:11) tells us that if we manage to become the "head", then we can achieve spiritual elevation. This word "rosh" also contains the mystical element of the Shabbat within it, since it alludes to the completion of the creative process in the Celestial Regions, i.e. the "head".
The Shabbat is the soul-mate, of the Jewish people. The expression "zug shel [literally, 'mate of'] rosh", alludes to the letters in the alphabet following [i.e. being the mate of] the letters in the word "rosh": reish-alef-shin. These letters are shin-bet-tav, the letters that spell "Shabbat". As far as the half-shekel contribution was concerned, every Jew was counted, i.e. every "head" was equal.
When you combine the word "li" there, with the word "rosh"…you have the word "Yisrael"…
Since the word "teruma", literally "donation", appears three times in this paragraph, it is clear that the Torah alludes to three distinct contributions to be made. One of these contributions is a voluntary one, described by the Torah as given to G‑d, as is written, "li", literally "for Me," [regarding the donations made for building the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:2)]. When you combine the word "li" there, with the word "rosh" used by the Torah in our verse, you have the word "Yisrael"- Israel.
When all the Jews have made both their mandatory and their voluntary contributions the result is "Shabbat kodesh l'Yisrael", "Shabbat is holy to Israel", meaning that the 600,000 Israelites have each joined their mate, the holy Shabbat, [i.e.] the seventh day.
Tragically, then the Israelites sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, an episode introduced by the Torah with the words "When the people noticed that Moses was late" (Ex. 32:1). "…was late" in Hebrew is written "boshesh" and can also be read as "b'shesh [literally, "with six"], meaning that the people regressed to the spiritual level of "six" instead of "seven". Our sages all refer to the word meaning that Moses was six hours overdue or something to this effect, as mentioned already by Rashi.
[Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk] From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz
Kabbalah explains that the washing of our hands elevates the supernal worlds.
From Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman's commentary on the Torah
"And Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it [the laver]." (Ex. 30:19)
This washing was out of reverence for Him Who is on high, for whoever approaches the King's table to serve, or to touch the portion of the King's food, and of the wine which he drinks, washes his hands, because "hands are busy" [touch unclean things automatically]. In addition He prescribed here the washing of feet because the priests performed the Service barefooted, and there are some people who have impurities and dirt on their feet.
Hands and feet…allude in the human form to the Ten Emanations….
By way of the Truth [the mystic teachings of the Kabbala], these parts of the body had to be washed because the extremities of the person's body are his hands and feet, for when the hands are upraised they are higher than the rest of the body, and the feet are the lowest point. They allude in the human form to the Ten Emanations, with the whole body between them, just as the Rabbis have said in Sefer Yetzira: "He made a covenant with him [Abraham] between the ten fingers of his hands and the ten fingers of his feet, with the protrusive part of the tongue and with the protrusive part of the nakedness." Therefore the ministers of the One on High were commanded to wash their hands and feet, this washing being for the sake of holiness. Thus Onkelos translated "to wash" [in Hebrew, "l'rochtza"] in this verse as "to sanctify" ["l'kidush"].
It is on the basis of the idea of this commandment that our Rabbis have instituted the washing of hands before prayer, in order that one should direct one's thoughts to this matter, just as in the uplifting of hands by the priests when blessing the people.
Adapted from Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel's annotated translation From Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman's commentary on the Torah
One of the more enigmatic passages in the Torah describes a mysterious encounter that took place following the Sin of the Golden Calf. After successfully pleading on behalf of the Jewish people, Moses took advantage of this special time of Divine favor. “Please let me have a vision of Your Glory!”
God replied that it is impossible for mortal man “to have a vision of Me and live.” However, God agreed to protect Moses in a mountain crevice as He “passed by.”
“You will then have a vision of My back. My face, however, will not be seen.” (Ex. 33:17-23)
This account raises many questions. The most obvious problem concerns the story’s anthropomorphic elements. God has no body; what do the allegorical terms ‘back’ and ‘face’ mean?
The Talmudic commentary for this puzzling incident only adds to our confusion. The Sages explained that God revealed His ‘back’ to Moses by showing him the knot of God’s tefillah shel rosh. (The tefillah shel rosh, the phylactery worn on the head, is held in place by means of a leather strap tied to the back of the head with a special knot.)
What is the significance of God’s tefillin knot? Why did God choose to reveal that particular part of His tefillin to Moses?
There are two levels of knowledge. The first is an accurate knowledge of an object’s true nature. The second is a limited knowledge, restricted by our intellectual or physical limitations. Regarding tangible objects, there may not be a significant difference between the two levels of knowledge. But when dealing with abstract concepts, especially with regard to the nature of God, the difference will be great - perhaps infinitely so.
The Torah is based on the second type of knowledge. It presents us with a perception of God according to our limited grasp, since only this type of knowledge can provide ethical guidance. Knowledge of God’s true nature, on the other hand, is not a form of comprehension at all. As God informed Moses: “Man cannot have a vision of Me and live.”
chanoch adds: Torah speaks in the Language of Man – taught by our Sages. This is allowing man to perceive what he is abl to pereive hile we know there is much we are unable to perceive.
Now we may begin to understand the metaphor of God’s tefillin. Contained inside tefillin are scrolls with verses declaring God’s unity and Divine nature. These verses signify a comprehension of God’s true reality. This truth, however, is beyond human understanding. How can we relate to this infinite truth? What brings it down to the level of our intellectual capabilities, enabling this knowledge to enlighten us and provide moral direction?
The function of the knot is to bind the tefillah shel rosh to the head - and intellect. The knot symbolizes a level of comprehension that takes into account the abilities of those contemplating, so that they may grasp and utilize this knowledge.
The imagery of God’s ‘face’ and ‘back’ corresponds to these two levels of knowledge. ‘Face’ in Hebrew is panim, similar to the word p'nim, meaning inner essence. True knowledge of God’s infinite reality is God’s ‘face.’
Knowledge of God’s reality according to our limited understanding, on the other hand, is referred to as God’s ‘back.’ Moses was granted this partial, indirect knowledge - a grasp of the Divine that we are able to appreciate and apply in our finite world.
Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p
By the age of 20, one is considered fully equipped to cope with temptation.
From the Ohr HaChaim commentary by Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) ibn Attar
"Every man over 20 years old …and give this offering to G‑d." (Ex. 30:14)
The Torah stipulates that the minimum age at which a person had to make his half-shekel contribution was from twenty years and up. The Torah revealed a secret here when it did not demand that males from the age of 13 and up had to make this contribution. Seeing the males are considered as adults from the age of 13, why would teenagers not have been liable for this ransom? They also participated in the Golden Calf episode!
Maturity is essential to…appreciate G‑d's message to man…
The Torah told us here that a person's personality [Nefesh] has not matured until age 20, as he had not had time to absorb and comprehend the various spiritual components that make up a true Israelite until he has reached that age. This is the mystical dimension of the verse "You are My son, I have fathered you this day" (Psalms 2:7). Compare what the Zohar, parashat Mishpatim p.98 has to say on that verse.
The Zohar, commenting on Ex. 21:9, writes that a man is called "ben" [literally "son"] from the age of 13, and "ben leHakodosh Baruch Hu" [literally "son of the Holy One blessed be He"] from the age of 20. Ed.
There is a sound reason why man should not be liable to punishment at the hands of heaven until he has reached that age. He is not yet mature emotionally and intellectually. Such maturity is essential to enable us to successfully battle the evil urge and to appreciate G‑d's message to man. By the time man has reached the age of 20, he is considered fully equipped to cope with all kinds of temptations.
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar translated by Eliyahu Munk.
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