From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
A Person is His Thoughts
This Shabbat we shall read, “When you take a census of Bnei Yisrael to determine their number” (Shemot 30:12).
Rabbeinu Chaim ben Atar z”l (1696-1743) explains in his commentary on the Torah that “Ki Tissa” (the Hebrew for “when you take a census”) is an expression of “elevating”, similar to the phrase “Paro will lift your head” (Bereishit 39:13), which is an expression of raising, that the head of the Bnei Yisrael will be raised from having been down due to the sin of the Golden Calf. This is achieved since they will raise their mindset to perform mitzvot and detach from sins, this is a spiritual elevation of the head and mind.
This may be explained that when Hashem Created man, his head was elevated and he walked boldly upright, to indicate a yearning for spiritual growth, thereby distinguishing him from animals who face downwards, which indicates a desire for embracing physicality and earthliness.
When a member of Klal Yisrael sins, even though he walks on two legs and his face is upright, nevertheless in his spiritual dimension he is inclined to materialism, “he is likened to the silenced animals” (Tehillim 49:13), he is slithering on his stomach, his eyes darting downwards and not looking heavenward to Hashem.
Chazal already said, “A person is his thoughts” and “where a person thinks is where he is”. If you wish to know your true spiritual level, examine where your thoughts are, what occupies your mind throughout the day - and you will know who you are.
Therefore Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to raise the heads of Bnei Yisrael, to elevate their spiritual standing, to propell their expectations, and to transform them to those who will serve Hashem sincerely.
There is no doubt that there are multiply components to occupy a person, a livelihood, a bank account, debts and worries, but it is not a given that these should rule his life, or his mind, and become the central focus of his life. Rather, we must place at the top of the pyramid the spiritual element, which includes Torah-study, the performance of mitzvot and good deeds.
It is related about one of the holy ones in Eretz Yisrael, the tzaddik Rebbi Yitzchak Minischitz ztz”l, who would seclude himself in his attic and study Torah in state of kedusha and purity. The tzaddik asked his assistant not to allow anyone to disrupt him from his holy work, except for the specific time that people would come to him to seek his counsel and ask for berachot. Amongst the rav’s chassidim were two cattle farmers who never made a deal without the rav’s blessing and so they merited to great success in their cattle business.
One day a plague erupted, and the cattle began dying one after another. Immediately, the two cattle farmers sought the rav’s beracha. The assistant explained that the rav cannot be disturbed until his dedicated time that he receives people.
But the two traders refused to wait. With tears in their eyes they explained to the rav’s assistant that every moment entire herds are being decimated, and that they are destined to be poor and destitute. The assistant was overcome with compassion, he took them to the attic and opened the rav’s door.
The rav sat in his room wrapped in his tallit and tefillin and was studying the secrets of the Torah. When he heard the door open, he lifted up his head and saw the two cattle farmers. Immediately, his eyes opened, his jaw dropped in shock and his face became white, he almost fainted. Before he had a moment to recover, he heard their plea and blessed them as they had requested, and the plague ceased.
The rav’s assistant, who had witnessed this play out, asked the rav why was he so shocked when they came to him, to the extent that he nearly fainted.
The tzaddik explained, “Know this! That it isn’t without reason that I request that you don’t bring people to me without permission when I am studying. My mind is totally absorbed in the Torah, I find myself in a world that is all light and shining, spirituality and growth. Before I accept people I must descend into a world that is all secular and material. So when they entered without prior warning, and their minds were only concerned with their cattle, I almost fainted!” I saw before me oxen dressed as men and I panicked thinking how do oxen know to climb stairs.”
This is what we said, “a person is his thoughts – and the place where he thinks – that is his location”.
“When you raise the head of Bnei Yisrael” – we must elevate our heads, and to soar our thoughts to spiritual heights, to “clear our head” from trivial thoughts. As we say each morning, “The superiority of man over the animals is nothing, for all is but a fleeting breath, except for the pure neshamah”.