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Parashat Ki Tisa: Elevating Beneh Yisrael

The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909), in his Od Yosef Hai, offers several fascinating interpretations of the Pasuk at the beginning of Parashat Ki-Tisa – "Ki Tisa Et Rosh Beneh Yisrael." The plain meaning of the verse is that it refers to the method of counting the nation, and "Ki Tisa Et Rosh" means, "When you count." Literally, however, the words "Ki Tisa…Beneh Yisrael" mean, "When you elevate Beneh Yisrael," and the Ben Ish Hai suggests several different approaches to explain this notion of "raising" Beneh Yisrael.

One explanation relates to last week’s Parasha, Parashat Tesaveh. Parashat Tesaveh is unique in that it contains no mention at all of the name of Moshe Rabbenu, and our Rabbis have explained that this omission is the result of Moshe’s request after the sin of the golden calf: "And now, if You will, pardon their sin, and if not, then erase me, please, from Your book which You have written" (32:32). Although G-d forgave Beneh Yisrael for their sin, a request made by a Saddik must be fulfilled, at least partially, even it was made on condition. Therefore, Moshe’s request to be "erased" was fulfilled through the omission of his name from Parashat Tesaveh. The Ben Ish Hai explains that Parashat Tesaveh was chosen as the Parasha from which Moshe’s name would be excluded because it is the twentieth Parasha in the Torah. Moshe had asked to be erased from "Sifrecha" ("Your book"), which can be read as "Sefer" followed by the letter "Chaf," which would mean, "the twentieth book," referring to the twentieth Parasha.

The Ben Ish Hai further explained that this omission was done for the purpose of appeasing the Satan. Beneh Yisrael’s grave sin emboldened the Satan, who vehemently petitioned G-d to annihilate the people. In order to spare Beneh Yisrael, G-d appeased the Satan by excluding Moshe from Parashat Tesaveh.

There was also another measure taken to satisfy the Satan. The Torah in the Book of Bamidbar (12:3) describes Moshe as the must humble man on Earth, but the word "Anav" (humble) in that verse is spelled in an unusual manner, without the letter "Yod." The Ben Ish Hai explains that this was done as if to qualify the Torah’s praise of Moshe, and suggest that in truth he was not exceptionally humble. The omission of the letter "Yod" was the second measure undertaken in order to satisfy the Satan so he would no longer advocate for the annihilation of the Jewish People.

With this in mind, the Ben Ish Hai writes, we arrive at a deeper understanding of the phrase, "Ki Tisa Et Rosh Beneh Yisrael." The word "Ki" consists of the letters "Kaf" and "Yod," and thus alludes to Parashat Tesaveh, the twentieth Parasha (the numerical value of "Kaf"), and the letter "Yod" which was left out of the word "Anav." These two letters had the effect of "Tisa Et Rosh Beneh Yisrael" – of elevating Beneh Yisrael, protecting them from the efforts of the Satan. It was through these measures which were taken to satisfy the Satan that Moshe was able to achieve atonement on behalf the Jewish People and ensure their continued existence despite the grievous sin they committed.


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Parashat Ki Tisa: Elevating Beneh Yisrael
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