This week's Torah portion begins:

G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: "When you count [literally "lift the heads of", referring to a head count] the Children of Israel according to their [military] assignments, each man will give an atonement for his soul to G‑d when you tally them. Thus there shall not be a plague among them when you tally them. This is what they will give, all those who pass by the tally: a half shekel of the Sanctuary shekel - this shekel is twenty gerah - [they will give] a half of this shekel as a donation to G‑d. All those who pass by the tally, from the age of twenty and older, will give this donation of G‑d. The wealthy will not give more and the poor will not give less than half of this shekel when giving the donation of G‑d to atone for their souls.'" (Ex. 30:11-15)

This [idiom of "lifting the head"] refers to the returning ascent of the lights [of keter], this being the allusion of the hair [on the back of the head].

For keter comprises ten [sub-sefirot], and the netzach and hod within it are states of judgment.

Keter is anatomically identified with the skull. Although netzach, being on the right axis of the sefira-tree, is principally associated with chesed, its quality of "victory" requires an element of gevura as well.

These [sub-sefirot] return and ascend as "reflected light" ["or chozer"]. This is because the more all the other attributes extend [below and become manifest], the more merciful they become. But the more the states of judgment extend [below and become manifest], the stronger the element of judgment becomes.

The lower a state of chesed extends, the more merciful it must become….

The lower a state of chesed extends, the more merciful it must become, since the lower the level, the less divine consciousness it possesses, and therefore the more it requires mercy. In contrast, the lower a state of judgment extends, the more judgmental it becomes, since the lower the level, the less divine consciousness it evinces, and the more there is to find fault with.

They therefore have to ascend back so that the element of judgment can be fragranced.

The attributes of netzach and hod have to be re-infused with the original "idea" of keter, or will, in order to remain true to its vision and not get carried away in their enthusiasm to transmit it. This re-infusion is called "fragrancing".

All of this applies to the "inner light' ["or penimi"] that enters keter. But ["encompassing light" - "or makif " - alluded to by] the kings [of Tohu] who died issued before these states of judgment. Because they were not fragranced, they died. But these, which were fragranced, endured. That is why they must ascend to be fragranced.

Hairs are like pipelines through which light travels and issues….

The lights of Tohu, alluded to by the kings of Edom who died, were also states of judgment. Each sefira of Tohu was purely itself and did not contain within it any element of the other sefirot. Therefore, each one related to the others judgmentally, not allowing any room for the perspectives expressed by them. This is why the world of Tohu was unstable and collapsed. In order to avoid the same fate, the sefirot of Tikun must be "fragranced".

Now, hairs are like pipelines through which light travels and issues, and [their shape] is like the letter vav.

The letter vav is essentially a straight line, similar to a hair.

Netzach and hod [of keter] are therefore called "the Children of Israel". For inside the head there is a membrane, which is like a firmament, which in turn corresponds to tiferet, which in turn is indicated by the vav [of the name Havayah].

There is a membrane inside the skull surrounding the brain. In Kabbalah, this membrane is a manifestation of tiferet of keter. Tiferet is the border between the primary emotions - chesed and gevura - and the secondary emotions - netzach, hod, and yesod. It is therefore similar to the firmament, which divides between the "upper water" (atmospheric moisture) and the "lower water" (oceans and seas, etc.).

Just as netzach and hod issue from tiferet, the hair is considered to be rooted in the membrane between the brain and the inner surface of the skull.

The fact that tiferet is indicated by the vav of the name Havayah and netzach and hod are indicated by the head hairs, shaped like the letter vav, indicates that they are thematically linked.

They ascend [out of the head] and split through this firmament, which corresponds to the letter vav [of the name Havayah], and thus acquire its properties and assume the shape of the letter vav.

They are therefore called "the Children of Israel", since they issue from him.

The patriarch Jacob, also known as "Israel", is associated with the sefira of tiferet. Since netzach and hod are derived from tiferet, they are the "Children of Israel".

Now, the purpose of these hairs is to cover the neck, so the forces of evil cannot gaze at it.

By covering the neck, the hair hides it from the view of the forces of evil, which are always positioned behind….

By covering the neck, the hair hides it from the view of the forces of evil, which are always positioned behind the partzuf. If they do not see the neck, they cannot derive any sustenance from it.

This is the [mystical] meaning of the phrase "When you lift up the head of the Children of Israel", referring to how the [light that issues from the] hair re-ascends [to be "fragranced"].

The process of "lifting up the head" is accomplished by giving a half-shekel. The image of a half-shekel implies weighing two half-shekels on a scale to make sure they are equal. Indeed, the word "shekel" means "weight".

The notion of a scale [in Hebrew, "mishkal"] is associated with hair, as follows:

The word "mishkal" is spelled mem-shin-kuf-lamed.

The name Havayah can be spelled-out with the letter yud. [In this case, the full-spelling out uses four yud's.] The four yud's in the divine name Ab [= 72] are alluded to by the letters shin-kuf of the word "mishkal", for each yud is inter-included to 100, thus giving the numerical value of shin-kuf [= 400].

The divine name Ab [= 72] is spelled yud-vav-dalet hei-yud vav-yud-vav hei-yud, as we have seen previously. The numerical value of yud is 10, alluding to the ten sefirot. Each sefira is inter-includes ten sub-sefirot and 100 sub-sub-sefirot. The combined numerical value of the 4 inter-inter-included yud's is thus 400.

    Shin-kuf = 300 + 100 = 400.

The mem [of "mishkal"] alludes to the four yud's themselves.

The numerical value of mem is 40, which is 4 x 10.

The lamed [of mishkal] alludes to a simple yud together with a spelled-out yud, the combined numerical value of which is 30.

The numerical value of lamed is 30. The numerical value of yud is 10; the numerical value of a spelled-out yud (yud-vav-dalet = 10 + 6 + 4) is 20. 10 + 20 = 30.

Thus, this word alludes entirely to the letter yud.

There are numerous locks of hair on the head, each one containing 500 hairs….

Corresponding to this, the First Temple stood 410 years (Yoma 9a), this number being the equivalent of four [inter-inter-included] yud's [400] plus the yud itself [10]. And the Second Temple stood 420 years (ibid.), this being the equivalent of the four [inter-inter-included] yud's [400] plus a spelled-out yud [20].

The allusion to this is in the word for "crushed" [in Hebrew, "katit"].

The oil used for the Menora in the Holy Temple had to be "crushed" (Ex. 27:20). The word for "crushed" is "katit", spelled kaf-taf-yud-taf. This may be viewed as a compound of the two half-words kaf-taf (20 + 400 = 420, alluding to the 420 years of the Second Temple) and yud-taf (10 + 400 = 410, alluding to the 410 years of the First Temple).

All these levels [alluded to by the word "mishkal"] are in chochma, which is termed "holy," as is known.

"Holy" in Hebrew implies "removed", "separate", and chochma is considered "separate" from the other sefirot in that it is a direct revelation of the supra-conscious levels of the soul.

For this name Ab [= 72] is associated with chochma, which is holy.

As we have seen previously, the four spellings-out of the name Havayah are associated with the four letters of the name itself, which in turn are associated with the four partzufim of Abba, Imma, Zeir Anpin, and Nukva.

The word for "holy" [in Hebrew, "kodesh"] alludes to the kuf-shin, [which allude in turn to] the four [inter-inter-included] yud's of the name Ab [= 72], and the dalet [of "kodesh"] alludes to the four letters of the name Havayah itself.

"Kodesh" is spelled kuf-dalet-shin. The first and third of these three letters can be seen to carry the same allusion they did above. The dalet, whose numerical value is 4, alludes to the four letters of the name Havayah.

All this applies to the hair [of the head]. This is also the [mystical] idea behind "the shekel of the Sanctuary".

The latter phrase literally reads, "the holy shekel", or "the shekel of holiness", referring to the shekel at the level of chochma.

This is also the [mystical] meaning of the word for "according to their assignments". For all counting is related to hairs. This is why there are numerous locks [of hair on the head], each one containing 500 hairs.

The word for "assignments" (in Hebrew, "pekudim") in this verse is also a synonym for "counting".

Now, the half-shekel that the Israelites had to give caused the lights of Arich Anpin to issue, as noted in the Zohar.

Arich Anpin is the partzuf of keter, as we have seen previously.

This is the [mystical] meaning of the phrase "each man will give an atonement for his soul", for Arich Anpin is the "soul" of the whole world of Atzilut.

Arich Anpin of any world is the divine will to create that world….

Arich Anpin of any world is the divine will to create that world. Thus, Arich Anpin of Atzilut is the Divine will that brings Atzilut into being and sustains it.

And since, when the hair grows, it covers the neck so the forces of evil cannot gain a foothold there, it therefore prevents the occurrence of "a plague among them". On the contrary, they produce additional light, causing the forces of evil to distance themselves more.

Now, in the middle of the head there is a pathway empty of hair [the "part"]. There is hair on the head on either side [of this "part"].

This [pathway] is a manifestation of yesod, which is called the "pathway" [in Hebrew, "orach"]. This is why it is devoid of hair; for the hair on either side is from netzach and hod while the middle pathway is from yesod.

This is alluded to by the phrase "this is what they will give", for yesod is termed "this".

There are two demonstrative pronouns in Hebrew, one masculine ("zeh") and one feminine ("zot"). The masculine alludes to yesod and the feminine to malchut.

It is also termed "all" [in Hebrew, "kol"].

In the verse, "Unto You, O G‑d, are the greatness [referring to chesed] and the might [gevura] and the glory [tiferet] and the victory [netzach] and the majesty [hod], for all [yesod] that is in heaven and earth, to You, O G‑d, is the kingdom [malchut]…," (Chronicles I 29:10) the word "all" refers to yesod. This is because yesod is the interface between the higher sefirot and their expression, through malchut, into the lower world, just as a foundation is the interface between a building and the earth beneath it.

It "passes between the tallies", which are netzach and hod, for the latter are the tallies of the "Children of Israel", i.e. of netzach and hod.

The phrase "all who pass by the tally" can be read "yesod [alluded to by 'all'] passes between netzach and hod [alluded to by the tallies of the Israelites]".

This is why the Sanctuary shekel weighed twenty gerah, for the numerical value of the word "gerah" [plus the kolel] is the same as that of the word for "pathway" ["orach" = 208].

    "Gerah" is spelled: gimel-reish-hei = 3 + 200 + 5 = 208.

    "Orach" is spelled: alef-reish-chet = 1 + 200 + 8 = 209.

They had to give half a shekel because the male yesod takes [its content] from the right side, i.e. from netzach and not from hod.

Only males were soldiers.

This is the meaning of the phrase "The wealthy will not give more and the poor will not give less than half of this shekel". "The wealthy" refers to tiferet. It has no more than ten, for it is composed of yud's. "The poor" refers to yesod. It must also give no less than ten, so it must also give ten gerah, which is half a shekel.

This is all I found written.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Ta'amei HaMitzvot, parashat Ki Tisa; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.