I have a nasty, counterproductive habit.

Almost every night I lie down with my children to put them to sleep, but more often than not I put myself to sleep instead.

It’s an opportunity for me to spend a few minutes talking about their day, and instead, there I am, dozing off within seconds, rapidly losing the battle against my ten-ton eyelids.

Yes, it’s not ideal.

In a miraculous turn of events, the other day I was lying next to my son and I actually heard what he was saying.

“Tatty, do you ever wish you were a kid like me?”

My ears perked up, my eyelids suddenly not so heavy.

“Sometimes, I guess. Why do you ask?”

“You know, you have so much to worry about: work, money, you go to sleep late... Don’t you sometimes wish you were a kid like me with nothing to worry about? We just learn all day in school, and that’s it.”

Humph. Touché, kid.

I forget whether or not I replied with anything halfway coherent. I probably said something to the effect that I do, indeed, sometimes wish it so, but I’m an adult now and embrace my responsibilities. Or something mature-ish like that. But to be honest, the question was far better than the answer.

Children can do that. With their simple, sincere minds, they can throw matters into stark relief.

Later that night, I was thinking, “Hmm… Thank G‑d, I do work quite hard (my kid said so!), but what is really important? What would I do if I were completely worry free?”

He had the answer—sit in school and learn all day.

“Lift Your Head”

Sometimes we have to dig a couple verses or even chapters into the weekly parshah to find something that resonates with us. This week, it jumped out at me in the very opening words: “G‑d spoke to Moses, saying, ‘When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to G‑d an atonement for his soul when they are counted.’”1

As is often the case, the English translation is just fine, but it fails to capture the richness of the original. The opening words about counting the Jewish people literally translates as, “When you lift the heads of the Jewish people.”

Rest assured: Biblical grammarians have figured out how those words become, “When you count the Jews,” and we’ll take their word for it.2 What concerns us is that whichever way we slice this, the language remains puzzling: Why does the Torah say something so simple in such an awkward manner?

I’ll tell you why: Because there’s tremendous meaning in the words as they are.

Pick Yourself Up by Your Headstraps

The message is actually remarkably straightforward: Lift your head. In other words, spend a lot of time and place much emphasis on making sure your head is constantly “lifted up.”

Let’s put this into context:

This instruction about counting the people appears at a pivotal moment. The Jewish people had recently committed their most egregious sin—the debacle with the Golden Calf—and they were subsequently instructed to each bring a half-shekel coin to be used in a wide-scale count, but more importantly, to finance the communal sin sacrifices to be offered in the Tabernacle. In other words, this was the beginning of their process of return, of repairing the gaping hole in their relationship with G‑d.

And what was the first thing they were instructed to do?

“Lift your head.”

You want to correct the wrong of the Golden Calf? You want to make sure such catastrophes never again occur? Make sure you’re constantly lifting your head, devoting it to higher pursuits, paying a lot of attention to what your own head is up to.

It’s really that simple.

Mature Along with Yourself

Let’s break that down into more practical terms.

Our conscious mind is pretty much what dictates our life. A small child understands toy trucks and chocolate chip cookies, so that’s what they want.

As you get older and your mind matures and expands, so do your paradigms and appreciations. Yesterday it was toy trucks, and now it’s expensive game consoles. Or fancy eating establishments. Or expensive vacations.

And that’s why it’s so incredibly important to have something “higher” in which you can envelop that lovely brain of yours. Who wants to get stuck in video games and sophisticated business schemes for the rest of their life? Is that why G‑d put you here on earth and bestowed you with such an incredible brain?

Surely not.

Rather, G‑d gave us His holy Torah, a beautiful gift that is a true city on a shining hill into which we can always venture and spend some time. Or a lot of time.

The more time you spend there, the more your head is uplifted, and along with it, everything else. The head leads the body, so when you ensure that your head is in the right place, your feelings and actions usually follow.

It’s the reason why Jews throughout history have, come what may, picked up a book and engrossed themselves in the holy world of Torah. Through persecution, comfort, and everything in between, the Torah has always been our safe space into which we can retreat and uplift our minds, and, thereby, our hearts.

You had a long day at work? You’re tired and just want to sit back on the couch and relax for the evening?

OK. You’re entitled. And when you’re done, make sure to pick up a book, visit your favorite website, or whatever other medium works for you, and vault your head into some good ole Torah.

At that moment, you’ll be like my son, with nary a worry in the world.