• Dvar for Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    Moshe is instructed to “take a census of the sons of Gershon, of them too, following their fathers’ houses, according to their families” (4:22). This instruction raises several questions: 1) Why is the family of Gershon counted second, after Kehat, if Gershon was the oldest? 2) Why is there an extra phrase “of them too”? 3) Instructions typically end with “according to their families, following their fathers’ houses”; why is the order reversed here?

    Rav S. R. Hirsch posits that Kehat was listed first because their responsibility was to assemble and disassemble the objects of the Mishkan, a role that preceded all others logistically. Being listed first isn’t meant to diminish anyone else’s roles, so the Torah tells us “of them too,” to highlight that they are all equal. The families’ taking no offense at their role in comparison to others is a testament to their putting their overall roles ahead of their specific familial roles. It is this selflessness that the Torah spotlights for us, and for us to emulate.

  • Dvar for Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    On the day that the Mishkan (tabernacle) is inaugurated, the tribal leaders bring individual gifts; six wagons were used to transport twelve oxen, one ox per tribe (7:3). Why does the Torah specify how the oxen were transported with their respective configuration, and why are we told about the wagons before we’re told about the oxen themselves?

    The Oznaim Latorah suggests that the tribes’ sharing the wagons in order to bring their offerings was more significant in the eyes of G-d than even the offerings themselves. Furthermore, the tribes got along with each other enough to not only share resources but also to agree to each bring the same offering, avoiding the potential for competition or disagreement. The leaders’ identical gifts and their shared transport demonstrate that we are at our best, as a people when our resolve and actions are united.

  • Dvar for Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    Parshat Naso delineates the Terumah (tithe) that goes to the Kohen, and that the tithe “brought to the Kohen shall be his” (5:9-10). However, the word “his” is ambiguous, as it can refer to the Kohen or the donor. While it’s clear from the context and commentaries that the tithe does belong to the Kohen, why would the Torah use a vague term to express this rule?

    While Rashi quotes an explanation that the donor has the discretion to whom the tithe goes (hence the term “his” to control), Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky suggests a fantastic and relevant perspective. He explains that while the donation belongs to the Kohen, the act of giving is forever the donor’s. The more we give to others, not only do we benefit them, but we ourselves become better people as givers, and the self-improvement is everlasting. 

  • Dvar for Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    Among many other topics, Parshat Naso discusses the concept of one setting himself apart from society as a Nazir. The self-imposed restrictions include wine, shaving or cutting hair, as well as having any contact with dead bodies. The purpose of the Nazir seem to be purity and self-denial, commendable goals for anyone to achieve. Yet when the Nazir is done serving his term, he must bring a Chatat, or sin-offering (6:16). Why would becoming a Nazir be considered a sin?

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that while self-denial may have positive results and is praiseworthy (Chassidut), it is by nature a self-indulgent practice, thus requiring repentance once complete. For example, a Nazir/saint may give away all their money to charity, which would help others but may hurt his family. The Rambam explains that the proper approach is avoid extreme denial and enjoy the pleasures granted and made available to us by G-d. However, enjoying all that our world has to offer requires a balance of societal obligations, as well as recognizing and honoring our responsibilities to our families, community and country. 

  • 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.)

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