FROM THE TORAH
NASO: The Thirty-fifth Sedra of the Torah
In the preceding Sedra Bemidbar, counts were made for all of the tribes of Israel, with separate attention to the tribe of Levi, ending with the service description and census of Kehath, one of Levi’s three sons. Our Sedra Naso continues this project for the divisions of the two other sons of Levi, Gershon and Merari. It then turns to issues of purity within the camp, restitution of misappropriated property, priestly perquisites, trial of the woman accused by her husband of adultery, rules of the nazirite, the priestly benediction, dedication of the tabernacle and altar, and privileged communication between God and Moses in the tent of meeting.
SERVICE AND CENSUS OF THE SONS OF GERSHON
The Eternal charges Moses to take a separate census (Naso) also of the sons of Gershon, according to their fathers’ houses and their families, from the ages of thirty to fifty years, all who are subject to work assignments in the tent of meeting.
The work of the Gershonite families shall include labor and porterage in the following tasks: carrying the cloths of the tabernacle and the tent of meeting, its covering and the tachash covering on top of it, the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the curtains of the courtyard, the screen at the entrance of the gate of the courtyard which is around the tabernacle and around the altar, their cords, and all of their service implements, all that are made for the service to be performed. All of their labor and porterage shall be under the direction of Aaron and his sons. These duties of the Gershonite families for the tent of meeting shall be supervised by Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.
SERVICE AND CENSUS OF THE SONS OF MERARI
Take a separate census of the sons of Merari, according to their families and their fathers’ houses, from the ages of thirty to fifty years, all who are subject to work assignments in the tent of meeting.
These are their porterage tasks in connection with their work in the tent of meeting: the planks of the tabernacle and its bars, posts and sockets, the posts around the courtyard and their sockets, pegs, and cords, for all of their implements and their service. List by name all of the implements that they are to carry. This is the service of the Merarite families in the tent of meeting under the supervision of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.
RESULTS OF THE CENSUS OF LEVITES
So Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of the congregation produce counts of the divisions corresponding to the sons of Levi—Kehath, Gershon, and Merari—according to their families and their fathers’ houses, from the ages of thirty to fifty years, all who are eligible for service in the tent of meeting, in accordance with the word of the Eternal through Moses. The counts are as follows:
Descendants of Kehath: 2,750
Descendants of Gershon: 2,630
Descendants of Merari: 3,200
Total Enrollment of Levites: 8,580
KEEPING THE CAMP FREE OF DEFILEMENT
The Eternal charges Moses to command the Children of Israel to send outside of the camp anyone, male or female, afflicted with tsara’at, suffering a discharge, or impure from contact with a deceased person, so that “they do not defile their camp, in whose midst I dwell.” (5:3) The Children of Israel duly comply.
RESTITUTION FOR GUILT
The Eternal charges Moses to instruct the Children of Israel that any man or woman who sins against another, thereby breaking faith with the Eternal and being in a state of guilt, shall acknowledge their sin and restore the loss to the party harmed in the amount of the principal plus one-fifth. If the offended party has no redeemer to accept the restoration in his absence, then the restoration is paid to the Eternal for the priest, apart from the ram of atonement which the guilty party shall offer to seek atonement for the wrong.
PRIESTLY OWNERSHIP OF SACRED GIFTS
Any gift among the sacred offerings of the Children of Israel to the priest shall belong to that priest.
SUSPICION OF ADULTERY
The Eternal charges Moses to instruct the Children of Israel regarding jealousy harbored by a husband who suspects his wife of concealed, unwitnessed, willful infidelity with another man, whether she is in fact guilty of adultery or not. In the event of such suspicion, the husband shall bring his wife to the priest, and he shall bring as her offering one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour without oil or frankincense, as it is a meal offering of jealousy and suggestion of iniquity. The priest shall bring the woman forward and cause her to stand before the Eternal. He shall put holy water into an earthen vessel and add to it some earth from the floor of the tabernacle. He shall then uncover the woman’s hair and place upon her hands the meal offerings and hold in his hand the bitter water of imprecation.
The priest shall therewith administer the following oath to the woman: If no man has lain with you, if you have not gone astray to be defiled under your husband, then be unharmed by this bitter water of imprecation! But if you have gone astray under your husband and been defiled such that a man other than your husband has lain with you, then may the Eternal make you a curse and an imprecation among your people as the water of imprecation enters you and the Eternal causes your thigh to fall and your belly to swell! The woman shall answer: Amen! Amen!
The priest then writes these imprecations upon a document and wipes them off into the bitter water. He will make the woman drink the bitter water of imprecation, so that the water of imprecation will enter her for bitterness. The priest takes the meal offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand and, after waving it before the Eternal, offers it upon the altar. The priest shall then scoop up some of the meal offering as suggestive of the whole and make it smoke upon the altar. After that he makes the woman drink the water.
If she has been defiled for breaking faith with her husband, then the water of imprecation will enter her for bitterness: her belly will swell and her thigh will fall, and the woman shall become a curse in the midst of her people. But if the woman was not defiled and remains pure, then she will be unharmed and capable of being impregnated with seed.
This is the instruction of jealousy for when a woman goes astray under her husband and is defiled, or for when the feeling of jealousy overcomes a man so that he suspects his wife and brings her before the Eternal and the priest carries out all of this instruction, whereby the man is innocent of iniquity and the woman bears her iniquity.
RULES OF THE NAZIRITE
The Eternal charges Moses to speak to the Children of Israel regarding the vow to become a nazirite. If anyone, man or woman, should explicitly make such a vow, that person must abstain from wine or shaychar, from wine vinegar or shaychar vinegar, from grape juice, from fresh or dried grapes, from any product of the grapevine.
Throughout the duration of his vow, no razor may touch his head. He shall be holy, the hair of his head being allowed to grow untrimmed. He may not enter where there is a dead person; he may not defile himself even for his father, his mother, his brother, or his sister, as he is consecrated to God.
If someone dies near him unexpectedly, thus defiling his consecrated head, he shall shave his head on the day of his purification; on the seventh day shall he shave it. Then, on the eighth day, he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The priest shall use one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering; he shall seek atonement for him over the sin involving a dead person. The defiled nazirite shall reconsecrate himself on that day, rededicating his days of naziriteship, and he shall bring a year-old lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days of his naziriteship shall be voided since his consecration was defiled.
Here follow rules for the nazirite upon completion of his term of consecration. He shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting and present his offering to the Eternal of one year-old male lamb without blemish for a burnt offering, one year-old female lamb without blemish for a sin offering, one ram without blemish for a peace offering, a basket of unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, their meal offering, and their libations. The priest shall present his sin offering, his burnt offering, and the ram as a peace sacrifice before the Eternal, along with the basket of unleavened bread, and the priest shall do his meal offering and his libation. At the entrance the nazirite shall shave his consecrated head and place the hair upon the fire that is under the peace sacrifice.
After the nazirite has shaved his consecrated hair, the priest shall place the boiled shoulder from the ram, one unleavened loaf from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, upon the hands of the nazirite. The priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the Eternal, a sacred donation for the priest, besides the breast of the wave offering and besides the thigh of the gift offering. Following all of this, the nazirite shall drink wine.
Beyond the nazirite’s instruction, he must fulfill any additional vow of offering that he might make according to his means.
THE PRIESTLY BENEDICTION
The Eternal bids Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons to bless the Children of Israel. Say to them these words:
“May the Eternal bless you and keep you.” (6:24)
“May the Eternal cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (6:25)
“May the Eternal show you favor and grant you peace.” (6:26)
Continuing to Moses: Let them place My name upon the Children of Israel whereupon I shall bless them.
DEDICATION OF THE TABERNACLE AND ALTAR
Service Gifts: Wagons and Cattle
On the day that Moses finishes setting up the tabernacle, he anoints and sanctifies it and its instruments, and he does the same for the altar and its instruments. The twelve chiefs of Israel—heads of their fathers’ houses, the tribal chiefs who oversaw the censuses—bring before the Eternal, before the tabernacle, their offerings of six covered wagons and twelve cattle. The Eternal instructs Moses to accept them and to give them to the Levites for use in their respective services for the tent of meeting.
Moses distributes them among the Levites as follows: To the sons of Gershon he gave two wagons and four cattle in accordance with their services (cf. 4:24-28). To the sons of Merari he gave four wagons and eight cattle in accordance with their services (cf. 4:31-33). These are under the supervision of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.
To the sons of Kehath Moses gave none of the items. As their service is of the sacred (cf. 4:4,15), they would carry objects upon their own shoulders.
Twelve Days of Tribal Offerings
On the day that the altar is anointed, the chiefs start to present their offerings before it. But the Eternal tells Moses: let the chiefs present their offerings one day for each chief.
On the first day Nachshon ben Amminadav presents his offering for the tribe of Judah.
On the second day Netanel ben Tsuar presents his offering for the tribe of Issachar.
On the third day Eliav ben Cheylon presents his offering for the tribe of Zebulun.
On the fourth day Elitsur ben Shedeyur presents his offering for the tribe of Reuben.
On the fifth day Shelumiel ben Tsurishaddai presents his offering for the tribe of Simeon.
On the sixth day Elyasaf ben Deuel presents his offering for the tribe of Gad.
On the seventh day Elishamah ben Ammihud presents his offering for the tribe of Ephraim.
On the eighth day Gamliel ben Pedahtsur presents his offering for the tribe of Manasseh.
On the ninth day Avidan ben Gidoni presents his offering for the tribe of Benjamin.
On the tenth day Achiezer ben Ammishaddai presents his offering for the tribe of Dan.
On the eleventh day Pagiel ben Ochran presents his offering for the tribe of Asher.
On the twelfth day Achirah ben Eynan presents his offering for the tribe of Naphtali.
The offerings consist of:
1 silver platter weighing 130 shekels from each tribe for a total of 12 silver platters and
1 silver bowl of 70 sanctuary shekels from each tribe for a total of 12 silver bowls,
both platter and bowl filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering,
for a total of silver of 2,400 sanctuary shekels;
1 gold pan of 10 sanctuary shekels from each tribe for a total of 12 gold pans,
each filled with incense, for a total of gold of 120 sanctuary shekels;
1 bull of the herd, 1 ram, and 1 year-old lamb, for a burnt offering, from each tribe;
1 goat for a sin offering, from each tribe; and
2 cattle, 5 rams, 5 male goats, and 5 year-old sheep, for the peace offering, from each tribe;
for a total of 12 bulls, 12 rams, and 12 year-old lambs, for the burnt offering,
and their meal offering,
for a total of 12 goats for the sin offering, and
for a total of 24 cattle, 60 rams, 60 male goats, and 60 year-old lambs, for the peace sacrifice.
Such is the dedication of the altar after its anointing.
THE VOICE IN THE TENT OF MEETING
When Moses enters the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he hears a voice speaking to him from over the propitiatory (kaporet) on top of the ark of testimony from between the two cherubs. Thus He speaks with him.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Naso
A Danite from Tsorah, whose name is Manoach, has a wife. She is barren, having borne no children. An angel of the Eternal appears to the woman and tells her that she will conceive and bear a son. He cautions her not to drink wine or shaychar or eat anything unclean, in anticipation of her conceiving and bearing a son who will be a “nazirite of God from the womb.” (13:5) No razor shall go over his head. He shall begin to save Israel from domination by the Philistines.
She describes the angel to her husband as “the man of God” whose appearance was “like the appearance of the angel of God, very fearsome!” (13:6) She acknowledges that she did not ask him his origin and that he did not tell her his name. In relating his message to her husband, she adds to it that the boy will be a nazirite of God from the womb “until the day of his death.” (13:7)
Manoach entreats the Eternal to send the man of God once again to “teach us what we should do for the boy that is to be born.” (13:8) God fulfills his request so that the angel of God comes again to the woman, but only as she sits in the field unaccompanied by her husband. She rushes to her husband to tell him that the man has again appeared to her. Manoach follows her back to the man and ascertains from him that he is the same man who spoke to his wife before. Manoach asks him the fate and mission of the boy, but the angel of the Eternal can only affirm that his wife must observe the cautions that he first presented her. But he does add: “Let her not eat of anything that comes out of the grapevine.” (13:14)
Manoach asks the angel of the Eternal to allow them the time needed to prepare a kid. The angel replies that he would not eat their food and that if they chose to make it a burnt offering, it would ascend to the Eternal. This explanation was necessary because Manoach had not known that this was an angel of the Eternal. Yet Manoach then asks him his name so that they can honor him when his prediction is fulfilled. The angel of the Eternal responds: “Why do you ask for my name, seeing that the event is a wonder?” (13:18)
So Manoach offers up the kid with the meal offering upon a rock, to the Eternal. Then, while Manoach and his wife look on, something marvelous happens: as the flame ascends heavenward from on top of the altar, the angel of the Eternal itself ascends in the flame of the altar. When Manoach and his wife observe this, they fall upon their faces to the ground.
The angel of the Eternal appeared no more to Manoach and his wife. From this Manoach understood that he was indeed the angel of the Eternal. So Manoach shares with his wife his fear that they will die from having seen God. But his wife reassures him that if the Eternal wanted to kill them, then He would not have accepted their burnt offering and meal offering and that he would not have shown them and let them hear all that they had.
The woman bears a son and calls him Samson. As the boy grows, the Eternal blesses him, and the spirit of the Eternal begins to impel him in the camp of Dan between Tsorah and Eshtaol.
FROM THE MIDRASH
Numbers Rabbah 9:14
“The priest shall put holy water
into an earthen vessel…” (5:17)
in order to prepare
the bitter water for
the woman accused of adultery.
The only water that could already have been holy would have been in a container, and the only container that is provided for the tent of meeting is the washstand (kior) from which Aaron and his sons would wash their hands and their feet (cf. Exodus 30:18-21) Why, then, was the water for this trial taken from the washstand?
Because the washstand was made with mirrors of the women who came out of Egypt, as was said: “He [Bezalel] made the washstand of brass and its pedestal of brass with mirrors of the many women who assembled at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” (Exodus 38:8) The women’s mirrors were of polished brass, which they used to make themselves attractive to their husbands. Although Moses was at first reluctant to use mirrors which he feared were instruments of lust, God testified concerning the women that they were pure and that their motive in using the mirrors was to maintain pure family life and the procreation of children. So from the washstand made of their mirrors it might be determined that women, though accused of adultery by their husbands, were as pure as their mothers who came out of Egypt. In this way those mirrors would remove the suspicions of their husbands and continue to serve as instruments of pure and prolific family life.
Numbers Rabbah 11:4
Moses is to instruct Aaron and his sons:
“Thus shall you bless the Children of Israel…”
From these words I learn that the blessing of the priests is for Israel,
so whence do I derive that the blessing is also for non-Israelites?
“…say to them!”
To all of them inclusively!
Numbers Rabbah 11:7
“May the Eternal…grant you peace.”
The last word of the Priestly Benediction is “peace” (shalom)!
Great is peace, for even in time of war it is required, as was said: “When you approach a city to fight against it, you must first appeal to it for peace!” (Deuteronomy 20:10)
Great is peace, for even the dead require peace, as God said to Abraham: “You shall come to your fathers in peace.” (Genesis 15:15)
Great is peace, for it is granted to those who commit to repentance, as was said: “’Peace, peace, to the one far off as to the one who is near,’ says the Eternal, Creator of the fruit of the lips, ‘and I shall heal him!’” (Isaiah 57:19)
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 1:1
“The righteous will inherit the earth,
and they will dwell upon it forever.”
Rabbi Isaac considered a problem which the verse presents:
Where are the wicked? Are they flying in the air?!
In order to answer this question, he read the second part of the verse:
“They [the righteous] cause God’s presence to dwell upon it [the earth]!”
From the time of creation, God’s presence was in the lowest regions, touching the earth, but when Adam, the first man, sinned, God’s presence rose away from the earth to the lowest region of the heavens. When the generation of Enosh arose and sinned in idolatry, His presence was removed from the lowest region of the heavens to the next, second level. The sinful generation of the flood caused it to be removed to the next, third level of the heavens. The generation that built the tower of Babel caused the divine presence to be removed to the fourth level. Egypt in the days of Abraham our father caused it to be removed to the fifth level. The Sodomites and their sins caused it to be removed to the sixth level. Egypt in the days of Moses, to the seventh.
But there followed seven righteous ones who, sequentially, brought God’s presence back down to earth: Abraham our father, from the seventh to the sixth; Isaac, from the sixth to the fifth; Jacob, from the fifth to the fourth; Levi, from the fourth to the third; Kehath, from the third to the second; Amram, from the second to the first; and Moses, who brought God’s presence down to the earth. Therefore, it was said, “On the day that Moses finishes setting up the tabernacle…” (Numbers 7:1), which can be read, “On the day that Moses finishes establishing the divine presence…” since “tabernacle” (mishkan) means “abode of the divine presence (shechinah).” When Moses was seen setting up the mishkan, he was actually bringing down the shechinah!
Numbers Rabbah 13:4
“In Judah is God known;
His name is great in Israel.”
Of the twelve days of tribal offerings,
“the one who presented his offering
on the first day
was Nachshon ben Amminadav
for the tribe of Judah.”
Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Ilai taught: When Israel stood at the Red Sea, as the tribes debated with each other, “I shall go down into the water first!” “No, I shall go down into the water first!” Nachshon jumped into the waves of the sea and went down. David was thinking of him when he said, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come as far as my life!” (Psalms 69:2)
This is what the Holy One, blessed be He, meant when He said to Moses at the Red Sea before the pursuing Egyptians, “Why do you cry to Me?” My beloved is sinking in the sea, and you pray?! “Tell the Children of Israel to go forward!” (Exodus 14:15)
Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, raised the name of Nachshon in Israel, providing him the merit of the first of the twelve tribal offerings.
“His name is great in Israel!”
Numbers Rabbah 14:12
“This was the dedication of the altar
by the chiefs of Israel
on the day of its anointing…”
But was all of the dedication of the altar completed on the day that it was anointed? Was it not incomplete until all the offerings were presented, tribe by tribe, for the duration of twelve days?
“On the day of its anointing” comes to teach us that all of the tribes are equal and beloved as one before the Holy One, blessed be He, who applied the verse for all of them as if all of them presented their offerings on the first day—in order to fulfill that which was said:
“Each of you is beautiful, My beloved;
there is no blemish in any of you!”
(Song of Songs 4:7)
Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 1:2
“The king Shelomo
made for himself a palanquin
from the trees of Lebanon.”
(Song of Songs 3:9)
The King, shalom is His,
made for Himself
the tent of meeting…
Rabbi Judah bar Ilai taught: This may be likened to a king with a young daughter. Before she matured, he would speak with her wherever he encountered her, even in public. But once she became a woman, he thought it did not befit her honor for him to speak with her in public view. So he commanded that a private pavilion be made for her, and he would speak with her inside the pavilion.
Thus, at first, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him; and from Egypt I called to My son!” (Hosea 11:1) They could all see Me in Egypt, “and I passed through in the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 12:12) At the sea they saw Me: “Israel saw My great hand!” (Exodus 14:31) At Sinai they saw Me: “Face to face the Eternal spoke with you!” (Deuteronomy 5:4) But once they accepted the Torah and became for Me a complete nation, He thought: It does not befit My child’s honor that I should speak with them in public; rather, make for Me a tabernacle and I will speak from inside it. This is the meaning of: “When Moses enters the tent of meeting…, he hears a voice speaking to him from over the propitiatory (kaporet) on top of the ark of testimony from between the two cherubs. Thus He speaks with him.” (Numbers 7:89)