Parashat Nasso – Erev Shabbat 26 May 2023 (5783)
Week of 21-27 May, 2023
Torah portion: Numbers 4:21-7:89 Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25
Theme: Maintaining Sanctity
he census of the Levites which opens this parasha, (4:21-49), is straightforward in the description of the Levites’ task to protect and maintain the sanctity of the Tabernacle.
It is clear the Divine Presence was not only seen in the Tabernacle, but experienced in the Israelite camp as a whole. Adonai instructs Moshe to remove from the camp anyone with a discharge or anyone defiled by a corpse. The sanctity of the camp becomes paramount because G_d dwells there (5:3). In comparison to this understandable concern, the issues surrounding a sotah and a jealous husband (5:11-31), present a challenge to the reader. Maintaining community sanctity is identified as the reason for the procedure. However, to me as probably most modern readers, the steps involved are not only archaic, they seem unjust and indefensible. After reading the text, I was relieved to read E. Frankel who writes in the name of “the rabbis who spoke: We too were so troubled by these obvious inequities that we sanctioned this ritual only in cases where the husband himself was first cleared of sexual impropriety. And Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai finally outlawed the ritual even while the Temple still stood” (p.205). Judith Hauptman in her article concerning Post-biblical Interpretation in The Torah, A Woman’s Commentary, adds another view stating that the Rabbis considered the errant wife (sotah) as a metaphor for the entire Jewish people, whose betrayal of God and the divine commandments were understood to have led to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. (p.837). That broad jump in interpretation allows me to appreciate that change is a way to be true to Jewish tradition!
Chapter 6 addresses Community Sanctity through religious leaders. The term “nazir” describes an individual who dedicates herself (n’zirah) or himself to God. The length of time and terms of dedication may vary. When the terms are fulfilled the Nazir/n’zirah are to present themselves with an offering to the priest at the temple and can return to normal life. The latter part of chapter 6 describes the Priestly Blessing. This prayer is commemorated in Jewish liturgy, it is valued by Christian and non-believers alike. The values of kindness, protection and peace bestowed by G-d are universal and echo in our hearts! It was inspiring to learn that “the three verses contain two blessings, yet the verses expand in length from three to five to seven words, suggesting that G-d’s blessing expands”, A Women’s Torah (p.829).
Chapter 7 continues to honor Community Sanctity by listing gifts for the Levites and for the Altar, while the conclusion of parashat Nasso records a conversation between G-d and Moshe where G-d’s Voice emanates from above the Arc. I see that as a sign that the Voice is intended for all of us, beyond Moshe.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How do I contribute to community sanctity in my own home and family circle? 2. Share your memory of experiencing grace when the priestly blessing was recited.
Bibliography: Cohn Eshkenazi T, Weiss A. The Torah, A Women’s Commentary, New York NY 2008; Frank E, The Five Books of Miriam, New York NY 1996.
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Marjan Saenen, USA, Bat Kol Alumna: 1999-2000, 2002, 2010, 2014, 2015
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