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    A leader’s ransom – Ki Tissa

    leadershipCounting heads is the subject of the opening section of this week’s portion.

    The Hebrew literally means “When you take the head of the Children of Israel” – an instruction about taking a census. Look at the word rosh (as head) in a different sense and it means a head of the community. In that sense it tells the people what to look for in a leader. The criterion is kofer nafsho, literally “a ransom for himself”.

    In the context of the census it tells us that every citizen has to pay a poll tax, and from the number of such payments we calculate how many people there are.

    In relation to a leader it denotes his preparedness to be “a ransom”, the bearer of responsibility for his community. A leader who keeps aloof from the people and never emerges from his office not only is unaware of what is happening around him but is an administrator but no leader.

    The Talmud makes this point in relation to Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Joshua. When Rabban Gamliel visited Rabbi Joshua he was surprised to see how black his house walls were since he worked as a charcoal maker. Rabbi Joshua said, “Woe to the generation whose leader you are, since you have no idea of how the sages live!” (B’rachot 27b/28a).

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