Tag Archives: Naso

Commentary for Naso

2 Jun

This week’s parshah starts off much like last week’s concluded: with the allocation of duties in the Tabernacle to the various Levite families. This lack of change in subject manner is very striking. Usually when we begin a new parshah we get at the very least a moderate change in the subject matter, with the only exceptions being very long pieces of a single narrative, such as the exodus from Egypt or the story of Joseph- and even there the parshah usually ends at what we would normally think of as a decent point to begin a new chapter. Here, the text just marches on from one parshah into the next, still discussing the same thing, with no natural breaking point or cliffhanger.

After the remaining Levites have been assigned their duties, the parshah jumps around, discussing a number of different subjects. First there is a reminder to remove anyone who becomes impure due to Tzara’at, certain types of bodily emission, or by proximity to a human corpse from the camp until such time as they can be purified. It then talks about the laws for restitution of stolen property, the procedures and rituals for dealing with accusations of adultery, and the laws of a Nazir, before giving us the priestly blessing and then concluding with the offerings of the tribal chieftains for the dedication of the Tabernacle. While all of these subjects might seem to have little (if any) connection to each other, their inclusion together in this parshah teaches us an important lesson.

The parshah is bookended by matters that concern the Tabernacle, beginning with the completion of the assignment of the various jobs that need to be done, and concluding with the offerings brought by the leaders of the tribes to celebrate its inauguration. The Talmudic principle of zerizin makdimin l’mitzvot (“we act with alacrity and perform mitzvot at the earliest possible time”) seems to dictate that once the preparatory work for the Tabernacle was completed, the inauguration ceremony should have started as soon as possible. The division of duties for the Levites is the last instructions God gives on this matter before the inauguration, so why does the Torah divert to talking about a bunch of other things before concluding the parshah with the inauguration?

The first thing the Torah tells the Israelites to do after the assignment of duties of the Levites is complete is to remove everyone who has become impure due to Tzara’at, certain types of bodily emission, or by proximity to a human corpse from the camp until such time as they can be purified. These three types of impurities are ones that can spread to other people or objects through various means. Obviously we do not want the Tabernacle, it’s implements, those responsible for working in it or those whose needs are being served by it to become impure, thus we should take steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

The Torah then talks about one who steals from his fellow and what to do in the case of an accusation of adultery. These two matters might seem completely unrelated to the Tabernacle, but they are related to the people who serve in the Tabernacle and rely upon its operation for the their spiritual needs. Theft of property causes material harm to another, while initiating the ritual procedures for an adultery case will cause emotional harm, either due to the eventual revelation of the commission of the act or due to what proves to be an unfounded accusation.   These two passages remind us that while we now have this wondrous spiritual location to help us develop our relationship with God, our conduct away from the Tabernacle and in our relationships with other people is equally important.

After this, the Torah gives the laws of the Nazir, who makes a vow to God to avoid contracting impurity due to proximity to a corpse, and to abstain from combing, shaving with a razor, the consumption of all grape products, and the use of any sort of intoxicant, for a stated period of time. If at any point during this period of time the Nazir messes up and does one of these things, he or she must bring a sin offering to God and start over again. This passage reminds us of the importance of meeting our responsibilities in service to God. The Tabernacle serves an important ritual function for all Israelites, and everyone must do his or her part to ensure that it can continue to serve that function for the community.

Next we receive the priestly blessing and then finally we get to the inauguration ceremony. Having the Tabernacle is not enough; we must make ourselves worthy of it. Only after receiving these reminders from God can we then receive the priestly blessing and the gift of a special place to help us develop our relationship with God. The “dedication” offerings given by the leaders of the tribes at the inauguration ceremony are not just a dedication of the Tabernacle as a place to serve God, but also a dedication of ourselves as worthy servants of God.

Commentary for Naso

21 Jun

This week’s parshah starts off much like last week’s concluded: with the allocation of duties in the Tabernacle to the various Levite families. This lack of change in subject manner is very striking. Usually when we begin a new parshah we get at the very least a moderate change in the subject matter, with the only exceptions being very long pieces of a single narrative, such as the exodus from Egypt or the story of Joseph- and even there the parshah usually ends at what we would normally think of as a decent point to begin a new chapter. Here, the text just marches on from one parshah into the next, still discussing the same thing, with no natural breaking point or cliffhanger.

After the remaining Levites have been assigned their duties, the parshah jumps around, discussing a number of different subjects. First there is a reminder to remove anyone who becomes impure due to Tzara’at, certain types of bodily emission, or by proximity to a human corpse from the camp until such time as they can be purified. It then talks about the laws for restitution of stolen property, the procedures and rituals for dealing with accusations of adultery, and the laws of a Nazir, before giving us the priestly blessing and then concluding with the offerings of the tribal chieftains for the dedication of the Tabernacle. While all of these subjects might seem to have little (if any) connection to each other, their inclusion together in this parshah teaches us an important lesson.

The parshah is bookended by matters that concern the Tabernacle, beginning with the completion of the assignment of the various jobs that need to be done, and concluding with the offerings brought by the leaders of the tribes to celebrate its inauguration. The Talmudic principle of zerizin makdimin l’mitzvot (“we act with alacrity and perform mitzvot at the earliest possible time”) seems to dictate that once the preparatory work for the Tabernacle was completed, the inauguration ceremony should have started as soon as possible. The division of duties for the Levites is the last instructions God gives on this matter before the inauguration, so why does the Torah divert to talking about a bunch of other things before concluding the parshah with the inauguration?

The first thing the Torah tells the Israelites to do after the assignment of duties of the Levites is complete is to remove everyone who has become impure due to Tzara’at, certain types of bodily emission, or by proximity to a human corpse from the camp until such time as they can be purified. These three types of impurities are ones that can spread to other people or objects through various means. Obviously we do not want the Tabernacle, it’s implements, those responsible for working in it or those whose needs are being served by it to become impure, thus we should take steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

The Torah then talks about one who steals from his fellow and what to do in the case of an accusation of adultery. These two matters might seem completely unrelated to the Tabernacle, but they are related to the people who serve in the Tabernacle and rely upon its operation for the their spiritual needs. Theft of property causes material harm to another, while initiating the ritual procedures for an adultery case will cause emotional harm, either due to the eventual revelation of the commission of the act or due to what proves to be an unfounded accusation.  These two passages remind us that while we now have this wondrous spiritual location to help us develop our relationship with God, our conduct away from the Tabernacle and in our relationships with other people is equally important.

After this, the Torah gives the laws of the Nazir, who makes a vow to God to avoid contracting impurity due to proximity to a corpse, and to abstain from combing, shaving with a razor, the consumption of all grape products, and the use of any sort of intoxicant, for a stated period of time. If at any point during this period of time the Nazir messes up and does one of these things, he or she must bring a sin offering to God and start over again. This passage reminds us of the importance of meeting our responsibilities in service to God. The Tabernacle serves an important ritual function for all Israelites, and everyone must do his or her part to ensure that it can continue to serve that function for the community.

Next we receive the priestly blessing and then finally we get to the inauguration ceremony. Having the Tabernacle is not enough; we must make ourselves worthy of it. Only after receiving these reminders from God can we then receive the priestly blessing and the gift of a special place to help us develop our relationship with God. The “dedication” offerings given by the leaders of the tribes at the inauguration ceremony are not just a dedication of the Tabernacle as a place to serve God, but also a dedication of ourselves as worthy servants of God.

Commentary for Naso

29 May

In this week’s parshah, we learn the laws of the Nazir. A Nazir is one who makes a personal vow to abstain from shaving, cutting his or her hair, consumption of grapes or grape products, and becoming ritually impure through contact with a corpse, for a period of time specified in the vow. The Torah tells us that by taking a Nazirite vow, one is elevating his or her level of holiness, and that “the crown of his God is on his head (Num. 6:7),” and yet, strangely, when the period of his or her vow comes to an end, a Nazir is required to bring a “sin-offering” to God. This is extremely counter-intuitive. After all, how could it be wrong to do something that brings us closer to God and doesn’t hurt anyone else?

 

With the limited drinking options of the ancient world, the change between consuming grape products and not consuming grape products was a very drastic one. While the idea behind taking the vow and the end result of it was to bring yourself closer to God, it was still a very jarring change. There was no built-in period to wean off of grape products, but rather a Nazir was required to stop cold-turkey from the moment the vow was made, and when people start something out by jumping into the deep end, they don’t always manage to swim.

 

Any change of lifestyle is going to be difficult, whether it is something as basic as trying to eat healthier or something as extreme as converting to a new religion (it is for this reason that conversion to Judaism takes over a year). By taking on such a change so quickly and so strongly as to make a vow using God’s name, a Nazir is deliberately putting himself or herself in a very difficult, potentially unhealthy situation, and thus is required to bring a sin-offering, even if the experience has been a completely positive one. While God certainly wants us to do whatever we can to better our relationship with God, God would heavily prefer that we not put ourselves in danger to do so.

Commentary for Naso

30 May

In this week’s parshah we learn the laws of the Nazir. A Naizr is one who swears a specific oath to “set him/herself apart for The Lord (Num. 6:2).” A Nazir is required to follow a series of very stringent rules, including not combing, cutting or otherwise removing his or her hair, not going near a dead body (even if it is that of a close relative), and abstaining from not just wine but from all manner of grape products (and, according to some modern authorities, all alcohols as well). In exchange for these restrictions, one who takes a vow to become a Nazir is “consecrated to The Lord” throughout his or her term as a Nazir (Num. 6:8).

When taking an oath to become a Nazir, a person can specify how long they intend to be a Nazir for, ranging from thirty days to the rest of his or her life. When a person completes his or her term as a Nazir, he or she is required to bring several offerings to the Temple, including, surprisingly, a sin offering.

It seems baffling that someone completing a term of service to God would need to bring a sin offering to celebrate the completion of this term of service during which they lived with a higher level of piety than usual, and it is a question that has bothered rabbis for years. It also seems odd that if there is some sort of sin involved, that someone who makes a vow to become a Nazir for life should be exempt from making this reparation offering despite serving a longer time as a Nazir than one who makes the vow for a limited period.

One important concept in Jewish ritual thought is the idea of “ma’alin bekodesh”- we increase in matters of holiness (and never decrease). Looking at it from this perspective, it is clear why a Nazir ending his or her term must bring a sin offering: as atonement for lowering him or herself from a higher level of service. The Torah understands that no one is perfect and thus it allows a Nazir to only serve a limited term if he or she so desires, but the underlying message of self-improvement encouraged by this principle is clear: throughout our lives we must learn more and do more to keep moving ourselves closer to God.