"…in the Sinai desert in the Tent of Meeting…take a census [lit. "raise the heads"] of the Assembly of the Children of Israel." (Num. 1:13)

"…in the Sinai desert": The parched desert is a metaphor for the overwhelming thirst for G‑dliness we feel and express in prayer. King David articulated this imagery in the verse: The song of David when he was in the Judean desert: "G‑d, You are my G‑d; I seek You in the morning, My soul thirsts for You." (Psalms 63:1-2)

Our relationship with G‑d must incorporate both of these opposing yet complimentary dynamics….

The Tent of Meeting alludes to the revelation of G‑d in the Torah and its commandments. A tent is an enveloping cover, alluding to the transcendent divinity [makif] we access by performing the commandments, while the word "meeting" alludes to the intimate encounter with divinity [penimi] we experience by learning the Torah.

Thus, the desert is a metaphor for our upward striving toward G‑dliness, while the Tent of Meeting alludes to the downward flow of G‑dliness into our lives.

Our relationship with G‑d must incorporate both of these opposing yet complimentary dynamics, the ascent of prayer and the descent of learning Torah and performing the commandments. It can then "raise our heads", i.e. elevate us to the highest expression of our souls, the revelation of their source.

"…take a census": Counting something is often a way of showing that we value it. By counting how much of something we possess, we express how much each unit of the aggregate whole adds to the value of the whole and how indispensable each unit is to the whole.

Every Jew is equally dear to G‑d….

In this census, the fact that each Jew counted for one - not more nor less - indicates that every Jew is equally dear to G‑d, as an individual. Every Jew possesses this invaluable worth by virtue of his or her unique soul-essence. By virtue of this essence, which the simplest Jew possesses no less than did Moses, all Jews are all equally G‑d's children. When we recognize this, we, too, will cherish and never dismiss or overlook any Jew.

…"take a census" [lit. "raise the heads"]: In order to overcome the desolation of the spiritual desert, we must always reach above it. Thus, the first, fundamental directive of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law (in the Tur and Shulchan Aruch HaRav), is that when it comes to Jewish observance, we must not be embarrassed by scoffers. This includes external scoffers - those who try to mock us for our dedication to our ideals - and the internal scoffer, the evil inclination.

Although the soul descends into a physical body, the soul's "head" - its spiritual essence - remains aloof and detached from the body. Nonetheless, the soul's "head" is affected by what the rest of the soul does while here below. By performing G‑d's commandments and fulfilling its mission from within the body, the soul raises its "head" in the supernal realms. By revealing the divine source and intent in material reality, the soul attains a higher awareness of G‑d.

[Adapted by Moshe-Yakov Wisnefsky from Yom Tov shel Rosh HaShanah 5666, p. 236; Likutei Sichot, vol. 8, pp. 231-2; Hitva'aduyot 5743, vol. 3, p. 1612; Hayom Yom, 2 Sivan (p. 58)
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