Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Census of Joy which Breaches through the Keter


In this week’s Parsha, the census of the Jewish people in the desert is discussed. After the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was erected, there was a command to count the Jewish people a month after Rosh Chodesh Nisan and then again a month later, in the month of Iyar.

The census of the Jewish people had specific requirements. It included all males from the age of 20 and up, excluding the tribe of Levi, which consisted of the Kohanim (priests) and the Levi’im (Levites). The counting was not done through a head count but through the collection of a half-shekel coin, known as the “Beka la’gulgolet” in Hebrew. Each person from the age of 20 and above would give a half-shekel coin to the 12 tribe leaders, along with Moses and Aaron, and this served as their representation in the census.

Reb Noson delves into the significance of the half-shekel coin used for counting. He explains that the half-shekel coin collected in the census and other instances where the Machatzit Hashekel was used went towards the Tabernacle, particularly for the sacrifices and the Ketoret (incense offering). Initially, before the Tabernacle was erected, the silver collected from the half-shekel coins was used to make the silver bases of the Mishkan, which supported the pillars and extensions. But once the Mishkan was completed, the silver collected went towards the daily communal sacrifices, the Korban Tamid (daily offering).

Reb Noson further explains that the purpose of sacrifices and the Ketoret is to bring joy. The act of offering a sacrifice is meant to bring a person closer to Hashem, and there is no greater joy than that. The Ketoret, which was part of the daily sacrifices, is explicitly associated with joy in the verse from Proverbs, “Ketoret YeSamach Lev” (The Ketoret brings joy to the heart).

Therefore, the half-shekel coin used for counting the Jewish people already contains within it the energy of joy, as it goes towards the joyous act of sacrifices and the Ketoret.

Now, the census of the Jewish people was specifically from the age of 20. The number 20, represented by the Hebrew letter Kaf, is associated with the concept of Keter (the highest level in the spiritual spheres). The Zohar states, “Ein Keter Belo Kaf” (There is no Keter without the letter Kaf). Keter is a level that is above the other spheres and is associated with the infinite light of Hashem. While Keter is generally inaccessible to finite beings, every Jew needs to have some interaction with Keter in order to perceive Hashem and come closer to Him.

The interaction with Keter involves being pushed backward or experiencing setbacks. This is because in order to perceive the higher levels of Hashem’s light, a person needs to be pushed back and experience challenges. These setbacks are actually a means of bringing a person closer to Hashem. Rebbe Nachman teaches that the pushing back is the greatest level of drawing a person close to Hashem. It builds vessels within a person, allowing them to absorb and understand the infinite light even though it is beyond their intellect.

Counting the Jewish people from the age of 20 was a way for Hashem to introduce them to this concept of withstanding the setbacks and challenges associated with connecting to Keter. The struggles and obstacles faced in life, especially in one’s spiritual journey, are not to be seen as hindrances but as opportunities for growth and getting closer to Hashem. By accepting setbacks with joy and seeing them as a stage of growth, a person builds the necessary vessels to perceive and understand the infinite light of Hashem.

Additionally, the census through the half-shekel coin symbolized the readiness of the Jewish people to connect with Keter. By performing mitzvot with joy and gratitude, a person can handle the intensity of the light of Keter. The exclusion of the tribe of Levi from the census is noteworthy. The Levites had a special role in serving in the Tabernacle and bringing the light of Keter into the world. Their purpose was to be a conduit for this divine light, and therefore they were counted separately, starting from their birth.

This is also the concept of the term used for the monetary counting – Beka LaGulgolet. Beka means the half-Shekel coin, but it also means to “crack through” the Gulgolet. Gulgolet means skull, but in the Kabbalah also corresponds to the Sefirah of Keter. Meaning, through the half-Shekel coin/joy in the mitzvot we “crack through” the Keter.

In our present times, without the physical Temple, the joy derived from prayer and performing mitzvot helps counter the challenges of connecting to the lofty level of Keter. Through joy and gratitude, we can cultivate a connection to the divine and navigate the setbacks and obstacles on our spiritual journey, ultimately drawing closer to Hashem.

Based on Likutey Halakhot, Orach Chaim, Nefilat Apayim #4. 

For an audio presentation of these concepts CLICK HERE

This article also appears on the BRI website: CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov

Meir Elkabas


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