D’var Torah: When Moshe Looked into Their Faces
There are some wonderful commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, that promote the idea that everyone counts. Even though the Torah’s views on equality and gender roles are antiquated, the spirit behind them was revolutionary in for its time. It is those ideals that we must carry forward.
God orders Moshe to take a census of the people and record all males ages twenty and up. God literally tells Moshe to “lift up the heads of the Israelites” as he counts them. Judaism believes in “being seen.” The idea that you need to actually see their faces and look into their eyes teaches us that each individual has worth, needs, and a separate sense of identity.
The “tax” associated with the census is a half-shekel, which was a nominal sum so everyone could easily participate. The proceeds supported the tabernacle, the symbol of organized religion. The Torah teaches us that the rich should not pay more or the poor pay less – showing us that we are all equal before God.
There is a beautiful commentary that notes that the Hebrew word “ונתנו” is a palindrome (spelled the same way from right to left and from left to right). V’natnu means to give or to pay. The Vilna Gaon, an important sage, suggests that this shows the two-way street of tzedakah: someone who can give charity today may very well be the person who needs it tomorrow.
The concept of individual worth was a revolutionary idea that Judaism brought to the world. We try to continue this tradition on a macro level by standing up against injustice, wherever it may be. On a micro level, we try to teach our children to value everyone in their lives, treat everyone with respect, and find the good in others. If we remember that none of us is whole without each other, that we could easily be in need, and that to truly look at another person is to acknowledge that they are created in God’s image, we will take a big step in making our lives count and we will be deserving of being counted. Shabbat shalom.