Naso 5758

by Ali Kaufman

This week, parashat Naso, is the longest parasha in the whole Torah. There are 176 verses in this parasha. Throughout this portion it discusses the census that is being taken.

At the beginning of the portion the Lord speaks onto Moses telling him the exact duties of the Princes of each of the tribes and what they must do. He also talks about how to take the census of the people. This portion also talks about what each of the different clans are supposed to do and how they are supposed to act. We learn many different things.

In this portion an interesting point is about the offerings brought to the dedication of the Mishkan. There are 12 tribes and a prince for each of those tribes. The Torah describes the offerings at the dedication of the Mishkan. The donation from each of the princes is almost the exact same thing. The Torah goes on to repeat the donation 12 times. We could ask ourselves if they all basically gave the same offering then why is there a description of it 12 times? When looking at it each of them is not exactly the same. They are almost the same-but not quite-which makes them unique and that is why we must have 12 different descriptions of it.

The offering that each Prince gave was different because of the way it was given. The way that it was made to be given. Each of the princes put his own stamp on his gift, this helped to make the gift special and unique for each of them.

From this point of the portion we learn about being unique. We learn how each of us is different and how we all are just as important as the next person and we can not and will not forget that. The Prince of each tribe had the same offering in a respect, but each was different. When we work with others, we will need to remember that we are each special in our own way.

Shabbat Shalom.

Naso 5758

by Rachel Gutin

There’s this man named, say… Joe Ordinary. Now Joe, a nice Jewish guy, goes home one day and finds a strange package sitting on his doorstep. After checking to make sure there’s no ticking noise, which would indicate a bomb, Joe excitedly opens it. Inside, he finds a lamp, and as must happen in all stories of this type, Joe rubs the lamp. Of course, he gets one bona fide genie, as ordered. And, of course, the genie offers him three wishes. Joe thinks long and hard. “I wish to be one of the richest men in the world,” he finally says. The genie snaps his fingers, and there’s money everywhere. Unfortunately, while our friend Joe is out partying, his house gets robbed, and when he comes back, nothing is left but the lamp. Joe, however, has two more wishes, and this time he’s just a little more clever. “I wish to be one of the richest people in the world with the best security system there is so that no one can take my fortune away,” Joe says this time. Snap! All of the money is back, and this time when Joe comes home from partying, all of the money is right where he left it. Now Joe still has one more wish. He thinks long and hard. He’s rich, he’s safe, but he’s still not happy. Maybe it’s because the government is making him pay taxes and his job is really stressful and his wife is nagging him and…”I want my life to be pleasant,” he wishes. Snap! Then the genie is gone. So Joe’s life is pleasant. Why is he still not happy? For that matter, what does this story about Joe and the genie have to do with this week’s Parsha, Parshat Naso?

In this week’s Torah portion we find many laws. Naso discusses what to do about unfaithful wives, how to deal with impure people, how to deal with thieves, and the laws of the nazir. But that’s all very negative, all about fixing problems and I,(being the optimist I am) decided to focus on something positive instead. Another highlight of this week’s parsha is that of the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly blessings. These are three brachot that Aaron and his sons are instructed to use when they bless the people. How does this relate to the rest of the Parsha, and, for that matter, to my story about Joe and his genie? Perhaps if we were to examine the blessings themselves, the answer would clarify itself. “May God bless you and guard you.” (6:24) Rashi explains that this refers to material goods, and to their protection. If you look at Joe’s story, you can see why both of these are in the same Bracha. After all, what good are your material possessions if they are no longer your possessions? So God, being much smarter than Joe, sees to it that the blessing includes not only possessions, but their security as well. “May God make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (6:25) This bracha is about God being kind to the people, making life pleasant, just as Joe wanted it. All the riches in the world won’t necessarily make a person happy, especially if they have a spouse who nags as much as Joe’s. Now, you might ask why the brachot don’t stop here. After all, we already have riches, security, and a pleasant life. What more do we need? Well, as the third Bracha says, “May God lift up His countenance (face) to you and give you peace.” The first half is a continuation of the second brachah, as Rashi explains that this is God witholding his anger, but what about the second half? Isn’t peace mentioned in the first bracha?

The answer to that is yes and no. There are many different types of peace, as this parsha so nicely illustrates. Naso begins with the counting of the people, a process that begins in Parshat Bamidbar, the previous parsha. Rashbam says the people are counted for the sake of strategic purposes, in case there is a war. One form of peace is that of peace from external enemies. The second topic in Naso is that of dealing with impure people, and the third is that of dealing with criminals. Both can be seen as a harmful influence on the community, just as disunity harms the Jewish community today, and these problems represent therefore a lack of the second kind of peace, that which should exist within a community. The next topic of Parshat Naso is that of a man who thinks his wife has committed adultery. In such a case, as with Joe’s case, there is a lack of peace in the household, a lack of Shalom Bayit. This is yet another type of peace that can exist.

The last topic before the berachot is that of a Nazir, one who abstains from wine, from cutting his hair, and from being near dead bodies in order to become holier. Perhaps he seeks something else as well. He wants to feel more holy, to feel better about himself. One of the things this person is lacking is perhaps the most important peace of all, the peace within oneself, inner peace. If one has peace within, one can allow that peace to radiate outward. For example, maybe if Joe had had inner peace, he would have had a better relationship with his wife. If one does not have peace within, even if he has every other type of peace, he will not be able to appreciate it, and he may even destroy what peace he has. Thus, after showing what happens when one lacks peace, and after showing us what disrupts it, the Torah goes on to give us a blessing, a formula for peace in our lives. If one understands that these berachot are not an independent entity, but rather a culmination of all the cautionary statements so far, then and only then can one fully understand the message of these berachot. Maybe the reason these berachot are to be given by Aaron and his sons connects to the following passage from Pirkei Avot. “Be a disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace…” (Avot: 1:12) We cannot sit back and wait for peace to come. The Brachah is not so much the peace itself as the potential for it. Only by following the preceding instructions and examples in the Parsha and by pursuing peace actively can peace truly be achieved, and if we try our best, then we will bring ourselves that much closer to achieving it. Don’t be like Joe who just sat idly by, wishing and waiting. The only way to get peace is to work at it, and believe me, it’s worth your while.

Naso 5762

by Hadar Schwartz

Shabbat Shalom! This Shabbat we read Parashat Naso. In Parashat Naso, we read about the treatment of a woman who has been accused of adultery, a Nazir, and about the Birkat Cohanim, among many other fascinating topics. The beginning of Parashat Naso focuses on people who have become impure.

God says to Moshe: “Remove male and female alike; put them outside the camp so that they do not defile the camp of those in whose midst I dwell” (Bemidbar 5:3). God, through saying this to Moshe, is implying that God is with those in the camp and therefore no longer with those who are impure. It seems rather disturbing that God can leave a person and then return at God’s convenience.

I thought of two possibilities of what this verse could mean. First, as we previously understood, God actually leaves the people’s midst. Maybe, God leaves our midst numerous times in each of our lives and it is then when bad things happen. Bad things must happen but God does not want to be a part of them. I am still troubled with this explanation though because it seems that God leaves the people because of one of their faults. Then bad things would be punishments which we do not really believe in today. The other possibility is that God is with those in the camp and with those outside. God is with those that really need God, and God is even more a part of them. God is so close to those people, helping them heal and guiding them, that the people and God become one. God is not with the person, God is a part of the person.

Just as this verse can be interpreted in different ways, both pessimistically and optimistically, we too have the opportunity to view our lives in a positive light or in a negative light. We can always blame external forces for the problems we face or we can understand that life is often not fair. That knowledge should not deter us in the future. It is all in how you look at the glass-half full of orange juice or half empty of prune juice.

Naso 5769

by Ron Shapiro

June 6, 2009/14 Sivan 5769

Every year on Hanukkah, many family members tend to give my brother and I the same gift. While appreciative, I am often confused since my brother and I are nothing alike.

This Shabbat we read Parashat Naso, which describes the dedication of the Mishkan and Ohel Mo’ed, the Tabernacle and Tent of Meeting. We also read this section on Hanukkah, which happens to be when I became a Bar Mitzvah. When learning the Torah I was going to read, I was confused when the third reading was nearly identical to the combination of the first two, save the names of two chieftains. As I studied the text so I could write my d’var torah, I wondered why this paragraph of gifts was repeated.

But it is only repeated once, it occurs 12 times in a row. Each day for 12 days, a prince from a different tribe of Israel would dedicate a gift to Hashem in honor of the Mishkan and Ohel Mo’ed, but every one gave the exact same thing. Why is this repeated, couldn’t the Torah have saved valuable words from a scribe?

You could ask me this question every day for 12 days and I would probably give you a different answer each time. Were the princes just not creative, like my family around Hanukkah? Were the princes so scared to give the wrong gift to Hashem that they brainstormed together and presented him with the same present? Maybe they were unsure of what Hashem would want, so they each gave him a little bit from a bunch of categories, which would add up to a lot in the end. Or maybe the first one, Nachshon ben Aminadav, was the most creative and the other 11 followed in his lead.

I am not sure I accept any of these theories. The Etz Hayim chumash provides one which is a little better. One editor said, “Although each offering was identical, each was unique to the person who brought it. The order of the tribes seems random, implying no greater status to those who came first. To each tribe, God dedicated one day, and on that day there was no gift like its gift. The sincerity of each offering was in no way diminished by the fact that another chieftain had brought an identical offering one day earlier.” Of all, I like this thought the most, but I believe it falls one step short.

In Bereishit, we read about the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, each presenting God with a gift. Abel’s gift of meat was accepted, whereas Cain’s gift of fresh fruit was not. When Cain sees this, it leads him to kill his brother Abel out of jealousy. This story is considered the root of hatred and is looked on as a paradigm for how to stop hostility.

In comparison of these two sections, the Torah teaches us that we shouldn’t try to give more for the purpose of looking better in the face of another. For one time Jewish history, our people is united. Even during a time when the Jewish people are furious at Hashem for not having meat, they are able to stand together and present him gifts. Rarely, if ever, do we see times when all Jews stand together with one opinion, but in front of Hashem, we all must show our faith and dedication as one.

Naso 5770

by Emily Mostow

This week, we read parshat Naso. In Naso, we receive the laws of the Nazir, as it says: “Hashem speaks to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to B’nai Yisrael and say to them, a man or a woman who shall set him/herself apart by taking a nazirite vow to set him/herself apart to Hashem” (Bamidbar 6:1-2). In other words, G-d is telling Moses that any member of B’nai Yisrael, male or female, can choose to be a Nazir and separate him/herself to G-d.

What’s the catch? There are some extra laws involved, which Hashem goes on to list in verses 6:3-21. Some of these include abstaining from alcohol, shaving, and coming into contact with the dead, as well as bringing some extra sacrifices.

Why would someone become a Nazir? We don’t have literal Nazarim today, in post-Temple times. However, many of us can relate to this idea of separating ourselves to G-d, l’hazir l’Hashem, by holding ourselves to a higher standard.

In USY, we have the Heschel Honor Society. Like the Nazirim, Heschel members choose to commit to living by extra rules. Hashem did not command everyone to do be Nazirim, but gave us the option. USY, I implore you to take any opportunity you get to separate yourselves to G-d. Whether it is joining Heschel, going to shul, or doing a SA/TO project, l’hazir l’Hashem, to separate yourself to G-d, is incredibly rewarding. Shabbat Shalom!

Bamidbar 5762

by Alexandra Bicks

Shabbat Shalom! This week’s parasha, Bamidbar, is one of the most famous in the whole Torah because it consists mainly of a very detailed list of numbers (hence the English name for this Sefer, the book of Numbers). This list is a census that God has commanded to be taken of all of the males age twenty or older in all of B’nai Yisrael. Thus, we get a listing of the complete populations of each tribe as well as the detailed locations of their camps. But, there is one tribe that is not included in the census- the Levi’im. What is the reason for this exclusion?

For once, the answer to this question is actually given in the Torah. God explains to Moshe that the Levi’im are all to be set aside for their own special function; they will work for Aharon and help to take care of the Mishkan. Under normal circumstances, the descendants of the firstborn tribe, Reuven, would receive this honor. However, the Levi’im are beloved by God because they did not participate in the affair of the Egel Ha’Zahav (The Golden Calf); everyone else, even those descendants of the firstborn, was guilty of idolatry. The Levi’im have thus demonstrated the ideal qualities of the firstborn- they are leaders, and they are loyal to God even (especially) when it is the unpopular thing to do. This is why God states, “Va’ani hineh lakachti et-ha levi’im mitoch B’nei li kol b’chor” “And I, behold, I have taken the Levi’im from among the children of Israel… for all the first-born are Mine.” The Levi’im are now the true firstborn and become able to perform a holy task.

Just as the Levi’im are the firstborn of God, so is the entire nation of Israel a firstborn nation. The Jewish people are considered the am kadosh, and they brought about the beginnings of Western civilization to the rest of the world. The modern-day state of Israel remains the “firstborn” democratic state in the whole Middle East. As Jews, it is our responsibility to serve as role models, to act upon the teachings of God as best we can in our day-to-day lives. Then, we will truly all be the firstborn of God, leaders and teachers, healers and tzaddikim. And maybe then we can help to bring about the holiest thing of all-shalom.

Bamidbar 5769

by Judah Kerbel

May 23, 2009/29 Iyar 5769

It is with renewed strength that we begin a new sefer this Shabbat, Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers). The word “Bamidbar” means “in the desert,” a name extremely fitting for the events of the fourth book of the Torah (though names are derived from the first significant word of the sefer/parasha). In Sefer Bamidbar, we will explore many troubling episodes in the journey of B’nai Yisrael in the desert en route to the Land of Israel. Some of these include: the mission of the twelve spies, Korah’s rebellion, Moses and the Rock, and Balak’s attempt to have the Israelites cursed. Stay tuned for more about these stories in the weeks to come …

Parashat Bamidbar gives the book a somewhat slow start. The main focus of the parasha is the census of B’nai Yisrael for the Israelite army, which is measured to be 603,550. This count does not include descendents of Levi, children under the age of 20, or women. Commenting on the first half of the first verse of the parasha, Rashi says:

“Because of Israel’s dearness before Him [God], He counts them at all times. When they departed from Egypt, He counted them. And when they fell at the sin of the Golden Calf, He counted them to determine {the number of} those who remained. And here, when He came to rest His Divine Presence upon them, He counted them …” (Saperstein Edition Translation)

Recently I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for the importance of seemingly redundant lists in the Torah. For example, the Torah goes to painful lengths to describe the exact construction of the Mishkan and the measurements and such. Here, the Torah lists the counts of every tribe, and uses the same mechanical formula each time it gives the numbers of a tribe! It then describes the location of each tribe, which tribe is primary, who leads, the number of each tribe once again, and exactly how the camps travel. Then the Torah gives us the lineage of the Levi tribe! Redundant/boring much?!

I believe that with the census here, we learn the importance of each and every Jew. Rashi explains that God counted the Israelites all the time, as when one takes account for any one person at all times, let alone a whole nation, one demonstrates his or her love and affection for whomever he/she accounts. Likewise, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, commenting on the connection between the same number of Israelites in this parasha as words in the Torah, relates that just as the blemish of just one letter of a Torah scroll renders it unfit for use, the loss of one Jew undermines the unity of the nation.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. In a world where anti-Semitism still exists, where we are a small nation in our numbers, and where the State of Israel is vulnerable in its existence, we must show care and share responsibility for Klal Yisrael – the collective nation of Israel – as well as for each individual that comprises of Klal Yisrael. If we fail to do so, the consequences will be grave. As we prepare to receive the Torah on Shavuot next week with Klal Yisrael, let our hearts open and chesed pour out, and let’s leave no Jew behind.

Shabbat Shalom!

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