Halacha for Friday 21 Adar 5781 March 5 2021

Parashat Ki Tissa - A Person is His Thoughts

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)

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”.

Shabbat Shalom!

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

The Prohibition of Threshing and Squeezing on Shabbat

We have explained several times that there are thirty-nine “primary works” that are prohibited on Shabbat. Every “primary work” is composed of “subdivisions” which are works similar to the “primary work”; these “subdivisions” also carry a T......

Read Halacha

Preparing Tea on Shabbat

In the previous Halacha, we have explained that one may squeeze a lemon Shabbat by hand, as opposed to using a utensil, for squeezing lemons does not share the same Halacha as squeezing other fruits on Shabbat. We have also mentioned that Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that even thoug......

Read Halacha

Squeezing Lemons on Shabbat

In previous Halachot, we have explained that one may not squeeze a fruit on Shabbat if there are those who usually squeeze this kind of fruit for its juice. We also explained that one may indeed squeeze fruits by hand (as opposed to using a utensil to squeeze it, which is prohibited) onto a food, fo......

Read Halacha

Squeezing Oranges onto Fruit Salad on Shabbat

In the previous Halacha, we have explained that the Torah prohibits squeezing olives for their oil or grapes for wine on Shabbat. The squeezing of other fruits is not a Torah prohibition; rather our Sages enacted that one may not squeeze other fruits such as berries and pomegranates on Shabbat. We h......

Read Halacha


Reciting Birkat Hamazon While Walking on One’s Way

Question: If one is eating while walking outdoors, may one recite Birkat Hamazon while continuing to walk? Answer: In the previous Halacha we have discussed that our Sages have enacted that one must recite Birkat Hamazon while sitting in order for the individual to have maximum concentration. ......

Read Halacha

The Significance of Tu Bishvat

The Fifteenth of Shevat or Tu Bishvat is the Rosh Hashanah for trees (Rosh Hashanah 2a). Most people commonly think that just as on the First of Tishrei, which is the day of Rosh Hashanah, all creations are judged for life or death, for wealth or poverty, and the like, so too, on Tu Bishvat, trees a......

Read Halacha

Reciting Birkat Hamazon While Seated

Question: Is one obligated to sit while reciting Birkat Hamazon or is it permissible to recite it while walking as well? Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (51b) states that one must recite Birkat Hamazon while seated. The Poskim as well as Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 183) rule li......

Read Halacha

A Dish Comprised of Several Kinds of Food

Question: What is the correct blessing on stuffed peppers? Similarly, what is the correct blessing on a cake which has just a little flour but the primary ingredients of the cake are fruits and nuts? Answer: In the previous Halacha we have explained that when one eats two different foods requirin......

Read Halacha