Parashat Ki Tavo-Heads or Tails?
BH this Devar Torah will require a bit more concentration than usual. Prepare yourself, and Enjoy!
‘HaShem will make you the head, not the tail; you will always be at the top and never at the bottom — if only you obey and faithfully observe the commandments [of HaShem your G-d that I enjoin upon you this day]’ (Sefer Devarim, Parashat Ki Tavo, 28:13).
Hmmm, this Pasouk from Parashat Ki Tavo sounds familiar. Don’t we say something like this on Rosh HaShanah?
We sure do!
In its simple meaning, HaKadosh Barukh Hu gives us the secret to attaining a good year, to being the ‘head’, on top, and not the ‘tail’. All we have to do is obey and observe HaShem’s beautiful Missvot. That sounds great, but what is the connection? Why would HaShem specifically make us the head of something and not its tail? Couldn’t HaShem just say ‘I will bless you with all that is good’? What are the mechanisms at work that actually make this happen? What is actually happening ‘behind the scenes’ when we follow the Torah and Missvot?
The Ben Ish Hai brings up the view of the Neshamah as something drawn from a place in Shamayim that is even higher than where the Malakhim, angels, live. When a person does an averah, transgression, it is considered as an object that has fallen from Shamayim and became lost. It is a Halakhah of Hashavat Avedah, that when an object is lost, the person closest to it must return it to its rightful owner and to its rightful place. Therefore, when a person’s Neshamah is lost (because they sinned) from its rightful place, Shamayim, HaShem is the One that is closest to it and must ‘return it’ to its rightful owner, in its rightful place.
We see here that the Neshamah here is being returned from a lower place to a higher one. So far, we’re getting the concept of being ‘on top’ rather than ‘on bottom’.
Rabbi Yosef Haim points out that Benei Yisrael are known by the two names, Yaakov (as in Beit Yaakov) and Yisrael (as in Benei Yisrael)—they both are two names to the same person (Yaakov Avinu is known as both ‘Yaakov’ and ‘Yisrael’). Yisrael – the special name given to Ya’akov by HaShem – is considered the greater of the two (afterall, he ‘earns’ this name after passing a tremendous nisayon, test). The Ben Ish Hai uses the midrashic method of breaking down words in order to reveal to us what really happens when we do a Missvah and how this makes us ‘on top’ and not ‘the bottom’.
We’re going to need to pay close attention here.
Both names – Yaakov and Yisrael — start with the letter yud:
In the name Yaakov, the word ‘Akev’ (heel) is left. It looks like this: י +עקב
Yisrael is made up of yud and the remaining letters spell ‘le’rosh’ (to [become] a head – the very same word used in the Pasouk we started off with). It looks like this: י +לראש
The yud of Yaakov stands for the yud at the end of the HaShem’s name pronounced A-donai. This version of HaShem’s name according to Kabbalah represents the lowest of the sefirot, the manifestation of Hashem’s kingdom, present in the earthly world. The bottom, the heel.
The yud of Yisrael represents the yud in the beginning of Hashem’s most sacred name, Yud-Heh-Vav- and Heh. This form of HaShem’s name represents the highest of the sefirot, that of Crown that is absolutely beyond anything earthly—the top, the head.
So when we do a Missvah, we are actually rectifying ‘Yaakov’ to ‘Yisrael’—we literally move from the ‘heels’ of the spiritual world to its ‘head’. By doing so, we actually also bring together and unify both of HaShem’s names A-donai (represented by Yaakov) and Yud-Heh-Vav- and Heh (represented by Yisrael) into one.
Want me to prove it?
Let’s look at the Pasouk again ‘You will always be at the top [למעלה] and never at the bottom [למטה]’ – The difference in the gematriya, the numerical value, of these two (and therefore the distance between them) is as follows:
‘at the top’ למעלה 175
‘at the bottom’ למטה 84
This equals 91
The numerical value of the two names of HaShem, A-donai and Yud-Heh-Vav- and Heh, is also….91.
Every time you do a Missvah, you are literally bring together the two names of Hashem. You change yourself from a simple Yaakov, ‘at the bottom’, which has a gematriya of 84 and add the combined numerical value of HaShem’s names—the amount you need to ‘travel’ from high to low –which is 91. This gives us a total of 175, and turns the person performing the Missvah into Yisrael, למעלה, “at the top”—which as we calculated before, has a gematriya of 175. Absolutely AMAZING.
Too much math? No problem. What Hakham Yosef Haiim wants to explain is that our Neshamot have the potential to be at a place even higher than the Malakhim. We really could be there. The thing is that sometimes we get a bit ‘lost’. But the best part of all is that HaShem Himself is the One that must return our Neshamot to its rightful place, to a place in Shamayim even higher than the angels. If we existed below the angels, they would be the ones closest to the lost Neshamot and would have to do the returning. How lucky we are that HaShem is the one to do this for us, since He does this with such compassion. HaShem doesn’t say ‘That Neshamah sinned, it is not deserving of being returned!’ Rather, HaShem facilitates this Neshama’s Teshuvah and says ‘I will return this Neshamah and allow it to do Teshuvah and live!’ We should know that when we are lost and want to ‘return’, when we so sincerely want to do Teshuvah, HASHEM HIMSELF IS THE ONE WHO HELPS US. Don’t ever give up.
This is why HaShem says He will place us ‘on top’—on top of the angels. So that HaShem Himself can be directly involved in the process of our return to Him. We have about ten more days until Rosh HaShanah. This is a time when we must be involved in intense Teshuvah, yet we can become very discouraged even thinking about this responsibility. In Parashat Ki Tavo, HaShem Himself is assuring us that He will help us every step of the way. All we have to do is get started! Yalla! You have every capability to shoot your Neshamah up all the way to the highest levels of Shamayim. Don’t let anything get in the way.
Look at the tremendous impact that every single Missvah has—the ‘big’ and ‘smaller’ ones alike. Won’t we think twice now on passing a precious Missvah up? You have a chance to make a Berakhah? Do it. Extra Sedaka to give? Give more. Bikur Holim? Hakhnasat Kallah? Lend a helping hand? Say a Perek of Tehillim? Don’t pass these opportunities up-they change worlds, each and every one of them.
Be’Ezrat HaShem, May we all be the ‘head’ on top, and not the ‘heel’ on bottom. May we understand the value of each Missvah, and in this pursuit, strengthen our Avodat HaShem. May this direct us on the proper path in preparation for Rosh HaShanah and may we all be inscribed for a wonderful and fulfilled year ahead of us!
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!
Based on the teachings of the Ben Ish Hai, Hakham Yosef Haiim