Friday, June 03, 2005

Bemidbar: Lift Up The Heads

Parshat Bemidbar-Sinai begins with the following command:

א וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית, לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם--לֵאמֹר 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the were come out of the land of Egypt, saying:
ב שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם. 2 'Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their polls;
Literally, se`u et rosh means "lift up the head," which here means taking a count. This expression means other things in other contexts.

In parshat Miketz, the butler and baker of Pharoah have dreams, and Yosef interprets the dreams for them. The bulter's dream is interpreted to be good. In Bereishit 40:12-13:

יב וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יוֹסֵף, זֶה פִּתְרֹנוֹ: שְׁלֹשֶׁת, הַשָּׂרִגִים--שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, הֵם. 12 And Joseph said unto him: 'This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days;
יג בְּעוֹד שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, יִשָּׂא פַרְעֹה אֶת-רֹאשֶׁךָ, וַהֲשִׁיבְךָ, עַל-כַּנֶּךָ; וְנָתַתָּ כוֹס-פַּרְעֹה, בְּיָדוֹ, כַּמִּשְׁפָּט הָרִאשׁוֹן, אֲשֶׁר הָיִיתָ מַשְׁקֵהוּ. 13 within yet three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head, and restore thee unto thine office; and thou shalt give Pharaoh's cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler.
Here, "lifting up your head" means raising in stature, and restoring the bulter to his former position.

Meanwhile, the baker's dream is interpreted unfavorably.

יח וַיַּעַן יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר, זֶה פִּתְרֹנוֹ: שְׁלֹשֶׁת, הַסַּלִּים--שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, הֵם. 18 And Joseph answered and said: 'This is the interpretation thereof: the three baskets are three days;
יט בְּעוֹד שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, יִשָּׂא פַרְעֹה אֶת-רֹאשְׁךָ מֵעָלֶיךָ, וְתָלָה אוֹתְךָ, עַל-עֵץ; וְאָכַל הָעוֹף אֶת-בְּשָׂרְךָ, מֵעָלֶיךָ. 19 within yet three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.'
Here, Pharoah does not only lift up the baker's head, which would entail restoration to his former position, but lifts up his head from upon him, which perhaps means decapitation before hanging, or perhaps simply death.

This dual use of the phrase to convey diametrically opposed results is certainly deliberate.

Here in parshat Bemidbar, we see a third use of the term.

However, Chazal, attuned to the use of this language, pick up on the term. In Midrash Rabba, we see several variations on the theme. For example, this is taken to mean that Hashem is lifting up the stature of the Israelites, and this is what is meant by "lifting the heads."

In another variation, the question is asked: How come the Levites are excluded from the count, and placed in a secondary count. According to the Midrash, this worried Moshe, who thought there may be some reason his own tribe was reckoned invalid. Hashem reassured him, and explained that they were given there own count, and explained the reason why.

מט אַךְ אֶת-מַטֵּה לֵוִי לֹא תִפְקֹד, וְאֶת-רֹאשָׁם לֹא תִשָּׂא, בְּתוֹךְ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל 49 'Howbeit the tribe of Levi thou shalt not number, neither shalt thou take the sum of them among the children of Israel;
נ וְאַתָּה הַפְקֵד אֶת-הַלְוִיִּם עַל-מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת וְעַל כָּל-כֵּלָיו, וְעַל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ--הֵמָּה יִשְׂאוּ אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן וְאֶת-כָּל-כֵּלָיו, וְהֵם יְשָׁרְתֻהוּ; וְסָבִיב לַמִּשְׁכָּן, יַחֲנוּ. 50 but appoint thou the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all the furniture thereof, and over all that belongeth to it; they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the furniture thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle.
One explanation given is that because they are Hashem's special legion, they are not reckoned in the count with the others.

However, another reason involved this dual connotation of lifting the heads. Hashem said, states one midrash, that שְׂאוּ אֶת-רֹאשׁ means that if they are worthy, they will be elevated in stature, but if they sin, they will be killed off. If the Levites were counted among them, they would be affected by this judgement. This is the meaning of לֹא תִשָּׂא, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. Indeed, that generation did sin, by listening to the Spies, and did not enter the land, and the Levites were spared.

Indeed, we see that in the command to count the Levites, Moshe is not told se'u, but rather hafked.

Another meaning of se'u is that Hashem and the Israelites were metaphorically "married" at Mt. Sinai, and this, the beginning of Sefer BeMidbar, is the ketuba. Marriage is called nisuin, and so שְׂאוּ can mean marriage. The first verse:

1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses (a) in the wilderness of Sinai, (b) in the tent of meeting, (c) on the first day (d) of the second month, (e) in the second year (f) after the were come out of the land of Egypt, saying:

is taken as referring to the country, city, day, month, year, and epoch, which are customary to be written at the top of the ketuba, and this is one reason the midrash offers for the listing of all this information.

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