Parashat Naso – Erev Shabbat 5 June 2020
Week of 31 May – 6 June 2020
Torah portion: Numbers 4:21-7:89 Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25
Theme: Numbers, Ritual and Holiness
Parashat Naso describes the Israelite cultic structures that are to be in place for the journey through the wilderness. The Women’s Commentary once again provides an overall picture of this Parasha. There are four sections to it: I. Cultic Administration with that of the Census of the Levites (4:21-49); II. Maintaining Community Sanctity by Countering Threats of Impurity (5:1-31); III. Maintaining Community Sanctity through Religious Leaders (6:1-27); IV. Record of the Tribal Chiefs’ Gifts (7:1-89).
What struck me in reading this Parasha were three themes that are repeated in the Torah: ‘numbers’, ‘ritual’ and ‘Holiness’ of God and because of the people’s calling by and contact with God – their holiness. Naso carries the meanings of ‘lift up’, ‘take’, ‘raise’ and ‘set apart’. It has movement in it – setting apart or separating – which is actually what ‘holiness’ is and requires. The Book of Numbers shows the transition of a motley group of slaves to a people called to be different in order to show forth the wonders of the LORD God to other nations. How does Parashat Naso demonstrate this?
Firstly, we see how the LORD commands Moses to set the house of Levi, represented by three clans, apart to see to the building materials of the Tent of Meeting (Gershonites and Merarites) and for the caring and carrying of most of the sacred objects for the Tabernacle (Kohatites). ‘Numbers’ in this section have to do with the age of the men (between 30 and 50 years) chosen for these important tasks to preserve awe and respect for the Holiness of the LORD and for facilitating the worship of the LORD.
Secondly, there are procedures set up to deal with possible impurities caused by unacceptable behaviour in the camp.
Thirdly, the opportunity was given to both men and women to be dedicated to the LORD and to be examples of holiness to the people – they were ‘separate’ in their way of life and in their appearance (Nazarites) – a type of religious order for God and for the people. In this section we have that well-known and often used Priestly blessing:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
‘So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’(6:24-27 NRSV)
So this people of Israel belong to the LORD because they bear the Name of the LORD which is given to them in the blessing.
Finally, we come to the last section where the Levites (Gershonites and Merarites) receive gifts of wagons and oxen from the chieftain of each tribe for their tasks. The Kohathites were to carry the more sacred objects upon their shoulders. The chieftains of Twelve Tribes each bring the exact same number and kind of gifts on a different day beginning with the tribe of Judah and ending with the tribe of Naphtali. Each day the chieftain and tribe are named together with the number and type of gifts. Finally, Moses can go into the Tent of Meeting and speak and hear the Voice.
For Reflection and Discussion: I spoke about the themes of ‘numbers’, ‘ritual’ and ‘holiness’ binding the events of this Parasha. Discuss whether this is so. If so, how?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, T. C. Weiss, A.L. A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008)