• Dvar for Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    From Rabbi Avi Weiss…

    Perhaps the most famous blessing is found in this week’s Torah portion. The Birkat Cohanim, the priestly benediction is recited by the priest and by parents to their children every Friday night (Numbers 6:24-26.) The benediction is divided into three sentences each containing two important elements; G-d’s blessing, and a prayer to avoid possible pitfalls of the blessing.

    In the first part, the priest states: “May G-d bless you and keep you.” The Sifrei understands this to refer to monetary benefits. But money has the potential to corrupt. Therefore a blessing for money is not complete unless accompanied by an assurance of protection  from its dangers. Hence the last word of the sentence, “May the Lord guard you.”

    In the second section, the priest states: “May the Lord cause His light to shine upon you.” The light of G-d is often associated with Torah knowledge (Proverbs 6:23.) However, while one can know every word of Torah, one can still lack the ability to interact and engage others in an appropriate manner. Hence, this blessing concludes with the word, vi’chuneka, from the word chen, grace. This last statement is telling us to remain gracious to others because knowledge often makes one insular – even arrogant.

    In the final part, the priest states,” May G-d lift His face to be near you.” This blessing expresses the hope that one should always feel the presence of G-d, for too often we sense that G-d’s face is hidden from us (the Hebrew word yisah, to lift, is the opposite of G-d being lowered or hidden.) Although we hope to always be absorbed in G-d’s presence, sometimes even that experience can distort one’s perception of how to change the world. Too often, people have done dastardly things in the name of G-d. Therefore, the text concludes, with a blessing of a grounded belief in G-d, of shalom, coming from the word shalem, whole. This threefold blessing reminds us that there is no absolute good. Every step forward always contains the possibility of unforeseen problems. May we be blessed with this continual awareness.

  • Dvar for Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    Buried in Parshat Naso (6:22-27), Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessings) is introduced with the instruction to “tell the Jews” appearing twice, which is why we still use it on special occasions, and in Israel even more often than that. What is the significance of these blessings that prompted the Torah to make sure we continually use them? As most commentaries explain, the first part of the blessing is for material possession and wealth. The second part of the blessing is for spiritual growth and development. The third part of the blessing is for G-d to continue to have more compassion for us then we deserve, and that He express that love by forgiving us for our sins, and by giving us peace. However, the strangest statement follows these blessings. Literally, G-d says “they (the Priests) should place My Name on the Jews, and I will BLESS them (the Jews)”. If the Kohanim were blessing the Jews for G-d to give them all these things, wouldn’t G-d’s role be to actually GIVE us wealth, spiritual prowess, and peace, rather than blessing us?

    Rav Aron Tendler helps us understand the blessings by explaining that the first blessing is aimed at making us realize that our material wealth, physical well being, and natural abilities come from G-d, and that He gave it to us for a reason. The second blessing is aimed at making us realize that we have a responsibility to elevate ourselves through our every thought and action. The third blessing is aimed at making us realize that we have a say in the world’s level of peace, and in increasing peace around the world by using the other two blessings correctly. It’s no coincidence that having “enough” money, spiritual growth, and peace all starts from within. G-d concludes the blessings by teaching us that if we simply notice G-d’s name and hand in all we have and all we do, we’ll realize that we’ve already been blessed.

  • Dvar for Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    From Rabbi Avi Weiss:

    Perhaps the most famous blessing is found in this week’s Torah portion. The Birkat Cohanim, the priestly benediction is recited by the priest and by parents to their children every Friday night.(Numbers 6:24-26) The benediction is divided into three sentences each containing two important elements; G-d’s blessing, and a prayer to avoid possible pitfalls of the blessing.

    In the first part, the priest states: “May G-d bless you and keep you.” The Sifrei understands this to refer to monetary benefits. But money has the potential to corrupt. Therefore a blessing for money is not complete unless accompanied by an assurance of protection  from its dangers. Hence the last word of the sentence, “May the Lord guard you.”

    In the second section, the priest states: “May the Lord cause His light to shine upon you.” The light of G-d is often associated with Torah knowledge (Proverbs 6:23). However, while one can know every word of Torah, one can still lack the ability to interact and engage others in an appropriate manner. Hence, this blessing concludes with the word, vi’chuneka, from the word chen, grace. This last statement is telling us to remain gracious to others because knowledge often makes one insular – even arrogant.

    In the final part, the priest states,” May G-d lift His face to be near you.” This blessing expresses the hope that one should always feel the presence of G-d, for too often we sense that G-d’s face is hidden from us (the Hebrew word yeesah, to lift, is the opposite of G-d being lowered or hidden). Although we hope to always be absorbed in G-d’s presence, sometimes even that experience can distort one’s perception of how to change the world. Too often, people have done dastardly things in the name of G-d. Therefore, the text concludes, with a blessing of a grounded belief in G-d, of shalom, coming from the word shalem, whole. This threefold blessing reminds us that there is no absolute good. Every step forward always contains the possibility of unforeseen problems. May we be blessed with this awareness.

  • Daily Aliya for Naso, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The gifts of all the leaders are added up and the totals given. The last verse describes how G‑d would talk to Moshe, His voice emanating from between the two Cherubs atop the Holy Ark.

    From this point, contact by G-d to Moshe emanated from between the two cherubs atop the (kaporet of the) Aron, where it now had a “home”, or a sense of permanence.

  • Daily Aliya for Naso, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This Aliya continues the descriptions of the tribal leaders’ gifts.

    The leaders of Gad, Ephraim, Menashe, Binyamin, and Dan brought their gifts on days 6 thru 10 respectively.

  • Daily Aliya for Naso, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: On the day when the Tabernacle was inaugurated, the tribal leaders wished to bring inauguration gifts. Collectively they brought six covered wagons and twelve oxen to assist in transporting the Tabernacle when the Jews traveled. In addition, as representative of their respective tribes, they wished to offer individual gifts and offering. G‑d instructed Moshe to accept these gifts, and that on each the following twelve days one of the leaders should bring his individual gifts. Although each leader brought identical gifts, the Torah describes each one individually.

    Although the gifts are identical to each other, there are sources that teach that each leader brought his gifts with special intentions and symbolisms unique to his tribe (which explains why they are listed separately.)

  • Daily Aliya for Naso, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This rather lengthy Aliya contains three concepts: 1) The ceremony for the sotah, a suspected adulteress who was witnessed going into seclusion with another man–despite being warned not to associate with that individual. The woman is brought to the Temple. This Aliya of the torah is written on parchment and then soaked in water until the ink dissolves. The woman drinks the water. If she indeed willingly committed adultery, her belly miraculously swells and she dies a gruesome death. If she is unharmed by the waters, she is cleared of any suspicion. 2) The laws of the individual who vows to be a Nazirite. Such a person must abstain from wine and grape products, allow his/her hair to grow, and may not come in contact with a human corpse. At the conclusion of the term of the vow, the Nazirite brings certain offerings in the Temple. 3) The priestly blessings.

    From ou.org: It is interesting to note that the many details of a Nazir’s prohibitions are counted separately among the Torah’s commandments. For example, does it not seem strange that the prohibition of a Nazir’s eating grapes and raisins and grape skins and seeds should be counted separately? In contrast, look at the many examples in the Torah where a large number of details are all subsumed under one mitzvah – building the Mishkan, the melachot of Shabbat, to name just two. Perhaps the answer lies in the usual circumstances of a Nazir. Here is an individual who might be having more than regular difficulty controlling his physical urges. The Torah permits him to take vows of abstinence (which would ordinarily be frowned upon) in order to help him “straighten himself out”. The Torah further “bombards” the Nazir, and his troubled soul, with mitzvah upon mitzvah to scrupulously adhere to. This process will hopefully bring the Nazir back “on an even keel”. (This is clearly an over- simplification of the Nazir issue, but hopefully something to ponder.)

  • Daily Aliya for Naso, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Now that G‑d’s presence graces the Tabernacle, G‑d instructs the Jewish people to banish certain ritually impure individuals from their encampments. Most of them were only barred from entering the Tabernacle area and its immediate environs. Only one who suffered from tzara’at (“leprosy”) was sent out of the general encampment. This Aliya then discusses the restitution and Temple sacrifice required of one who robs his fellow and then falsely swears to maintain his innocence. If one robs a convert who then dies without leaving any heirs, the restitution is made to a priest. Also included in this Aliya is the mitzvah to verbally confess one’s sins, and a person’s right to select a priest of their liking to whom to give the various required priestly gifts.

    Take a close look at this Aliya dealing with repentance. It speaks of a man or a woman sinning and of THEIR (not his) requirement to confess and repent. It is often the case that when an individual sins, others are somewhat responsible. Perhaps a parent who did not educate the child properly. Maybe someone who made stealing too easy and/or tempting. Does the society bear some of the responsibility for a sinner’s actions? A person is primarily accountable for his actions, but the Torah’s use of the plural reminds us of our duty to develop an environment of Torah values that will be conducive for all members of society to enthusiastically follow a Torah way of life.

  • Daily Aliya for Naso, Sheni (2nd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The total for the Gershon family: 2,630. The Merari family: 3,200. Thus the grand total of Levites eligible to transport the Tabernacle and its vessels: 8,580.

    LA’AVOD AVODAT AVODA VA’AVODAT MASA… Note the four words in a row with the same root. Rashi says the Avodat Avoda (kind of a strange phrase) refers to playing musical instruments. As far as Avodat Masa is concerned – the Gemara in Chulim comments that only when there is heavy manual labor involved, then there is an age limit for the Leviyim (as was mentioned above). And it seems that the age limit of 50 was only for the carrying. In other words, a Levi was able to continue serving in the Mishkan after 50, but only for SHIRA and SH’MIRA. (Yet the count was only for Leviyim from 30-50. Interesting, no?)

  • Daily Aliya for Naso, Rishon (1st Aliya)

    General Overview: This week’s Parsha, Naso, is the longest single portion in the Torah, containing 176 verses. The reading starts with a continuation of the Levite census and a discussion regarding their Tabernacle duties. The laws of the sotah woman and the Nazirite follow. The portion concludes with the Priestly Blessing and the offerings which the Tribal leaders brought in honor of the Tabernacle inauguration.

    Aliya Summary: G‑d informs Moshe of the Tabernacle duties of the Levite families of Gershon and Merari. When the Jewish people journeyed, the Gershon family transported the Tabernacle tapestries, veils and coverings, while the Merari family carried its structural components, such as the beams, boards and pillars. A final count is given of the Levite Kehot family — those between the ages of thirty and fifty, as per G‑d’s command mentioned towards the end of last week’s reading: 2,750.

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