Einstein posited, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” In this parsha we find an anomaly to Einstein’s aphorism. Indeed, in Ki Tisa, every Jew was counted through the permissible means of taking a machatzis hashekel, and every Jew counts. The reason for the anomaly relates to the unmatched potential contained in every individual of the Jewish nation. That’s the meaning of Ki Tisa, when you as an individual are “raised up” by being singled out by God who looks to each individual with great affection and expectation.
The individual has a mandate to reach his potential so as to enable others to reach their potential. Allegorically, this explains the Talmudic maxim that all Jews are “arevim zeh lazeh.” Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose is to give it away.” Only if your potential is met to the maximum can your gift be given away in totality.
Later in the parsha, we see the word “tisa” used in a different context, when Moshe asks God, “im yisa, if you will bear or forgive” the sins of the Jewish nation. Here the connotation of the word is to bear or forgive.
What then is to be learned from the two connotations that sprout out of the same word, tisa, to raise and to bear or forgive? It may be said in the spiritual realm, that to rise to greatness (tisa) one must be able to bear or forgive (yisa) others’ insults and humiliations directed toward him. Who in life has not been humiliated by others to a point that not reacting seems irrational? That is where greatness lies. If in the moment of humiliation one is quiet, he can rise to unparalleled greatness.
This characterizes Moshe, who had to bear the rebellion of the Jewish nation yet always remained their greatest advocate, even asking to be erased from the document that embodied his essence. The underpinning of Moshe’s character was humility, and God held him in the highest esteem.
Therefore, though we don’t have to reach the potential of Moshe, we do have to reach our own in order to enable others, and we must bear the humiliation thrust upon us in order to reach true greatness.
Steven Genack is the author of “Articles, Anecdotes & Insights,” Genack/Genechovsky Torah from Gefen Press.