“And Hashem said to Moshe: Raise the head of the Bnei Yisroel” to count them.
The verse uses the root word “pakud” four times in this sentence, seemingly very redundantly. Additionally, the term “raise the head” appears somewhat strange. Why not be forthright and use the term “count” or “reckon”? And why the word head (rosh), when the entire person was included in the count?
Our sages tell us (Niddah 30b) that before a soul enters this world, meaning before a person is born, he gives an oath to be righteous and not wicked. Every Jew has also pledged to be righteous at Mount Sinai. Our souls were all there, and we were all warned to keep the Torah. Since we all promised and we were all given this oath, how is it possible for us to still have a choice in the matter and transgress the Torah?
The Gemara (ibid.) informs us that right before a person is born, an angel flicks him, causing him to forget the Torah he learned before being born. This brings us to a pivotal question: if the angel makes us forget our oath, why are we held responsible for it?
The truth is that every person who came to this world was sent here by Hashem for a purpose. Every one of us was created to perform a special mission. Of course, we are all obligated to keep the entire Torah, but we see that we each have a special attachment to certain mitzvos. One person has the mission of studying or teaching Torah; another person has the mission of distributing tzedaka or doing chesed. Hashem as “assigned” people to certain mitzvos to ensure they are properly performed.
The word “pakud” has various meanings. It could mean “assigned”, as we’ve said before that each person is assigned a special mission. It could also mean “remember” (Breishis 50:25), meaning that we must remember this mission. Further translations of pakud could be “omission/oversight” (Bamidbar 31:49), “count” and “laws” (Tehillim 19:9).
All these translations work together. Every Jew must “remember” the mission he was “assigned” through studying the “laws” of the Torah. The more a person studies Torah, the more his assignment is refreshed in his memory. We were all given an oath at Sinai, and this oath is given again before birth. An angel causes us to forget this oath, and this indeed is our obligation – to refresh our memory so that there should be no “oversight” as to our mission.
For the first years of a person’s life, he is not obligated by the Torah to perform the mitzvos. This is so because he had not yet had the chance to adequately study the laws and refresh his memory. Hashem’s gives him time to prepare himself for his mission.
Hashem also gave us the gift of Shabbos as a special means of refreshing our memory and remembering our inherent mission on this world. On Shabbos we get an additional soul that awakens us and reminds us to review our assignment.
This is the meaning of the verse: “Raise the head…” The word rosh (head), when “lifted,” meaning when the letters that comprise the word rosh are elevated to one letter more, we get to the word “Shabbos.” (Reish becomes Shin, Alef becomes Beis, Shin becomes Tav.) So the verse implies that on Shabbos every Jew is given a reminder about his assignment in this world. When the above-mentioned verse is reread, using the various translations of the word pakud which is used four times, we arrive at an important lesson about remembering our individual assignments and ensuring they are carried out as Hashem commanded.
May Hashem help us achieve our individual missions and fulfill the purpose of our creation. We beseech Hashem to show us the beauty of His ways, so that we shall be a credit to His holy Name. In this merit, may every person be blessed with whatever he needs and may we all merit the final geulah, speedily in our times.