Lifting Your Head

Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk from Shnei Luchot HaBrit


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.

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 in 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 "Moses, the people noticed, was late" (Ex. 32:1). "...was late" in Hebrew is "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.


Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz the Shelah b. 5320 (1560 CE) in Prague; d. 5390 (1630 CE) in Jerusalem, where he served as chief rabbi. Author of Shnei Luchot HaBrit, hence the acronym SHeLaH, a work of commentary and halacha.



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