Parshat Naso

Parshat Naso is the 2nd in the Book of Numbers (Chapters 4-7). It continues with the census of male Levites (8,580) serving the Mishkan and an allocation of their duties by household.

Next follows a series of laws including; not allowing the ritually impure to dwell in the encampment, restitution for theft of another’s property, Sotah (a woman suspected of marital infidelity) and Nazir (one who vows temporary asceticism). The section ends with the famous 3 verses comprising the Priestly Blessing.

The later portion of Naso lists the Mishkan consecration ceremony, the 6 wagons and 12 bullocks for transport given by the tribes, and the 12 identical lavish gifts brought one-per-day, by each of the tribal princes – in order of their encampment rank.

Comment: One thing strikingly out of place in Parshat Naso is the imposition of laws of Sotah and Nazir in between the narrative-flow of taking a National Census and Tibal Princes bringing gifts during the dedication of the Mishkan.

Bamidbar is supposed to be a book about the nation, its encampment, travels and even its political movements. Sotah and Nazir, issues of personal sanctity, seem to belong back in the Book of VaYikra.

Perhaps one way to address this is by reframing our thinking about the difference between VaYikra and Bamidbar. The former aimed at the Kohanim and their role promoting and protecting the sanctity of the Mishkan, while the latter focused on the national interest and the need for keeping sanctity in the wider encampment.

Marital harmony is the cornerstone of any healthy society. Without it our families would wither, our social groups suffer and our children grow un-cultured and untamed.

Where Bamidbar focuses on the impact of each individual (counting head-by-head) who can be a contributing element in the national fabric, it also sets an example of how each person must take responsibility for the most sacred aspects of their behaviour – be it to one extreme or another.

Sotah addresses how we control our sexuality, even under difficult or vexing circumstances. [There is a bigger issue here in the seeming gender-discrimination of the Sotah. Specifically, there’s no equivalent ritual should a woman become jealous and wish to prove her husband’s chastity; it’s only the wife’s infidelity that is under question.

In part based on the view that men were permitted to have more than one wife but women could only have one husband, the Torah seems to judge women by a higher standard. Any attempt to address this other than apologetically might be misconstrued, though some argue biologically it’s easier to know the mother of a child; thus putting more onus on the woman.]

Nazir on the other hand looks at our higher-level instincts. Derived from the parallel prohibitions not to drink wine nor to mourn immediate relatives – both restrictions only applying to the High Priest – Nazir informs us that even ordinary people can temporarily strive for and reach the level of Kedusha experienced by the Kohen Gadol.

Which of these impulses we choose to follow – lower or higher level – during this problem-filled journey we call Life, is up to each of us. May we be those who promote sanctity and spread peace at a time when the world desperately needs an abundance of both!

Closer look at the Parasha:

A census was taken of the 30-50 year old males from the House of Gershon. Their role was to transport the curtains and roof-coverings, screens and courtyard curtains and their cords. They were under the charge of Aharon’s son Itamar.

A census was taken of the 30-50 year old males from the House of Merari. Their role was to transport the boards, bars, pillars and sockets. They too were under the charge of Aharon’s son Itamar.

A census was taken of the 30-50 year old males from the House of Kehat. [Their service – to carry the sacred vessels – was listed last week.] They were appointed by Moshe, Aharon and the Tribal Princes. Their number comprised 2,750 men.

The number from Gershon was 2,630. And, the number from Merari was 3,200. The total of those counted was 8,580.

Working-age Levites :

Gershon          = 2,630,           Kehat               = 2,750,           Merari              = 3,200
= 8,580

Moshe is told to command Bnei Yisrael those who are ritually impure from bodily discharges or from spiritual leprosy had to be sent out of the encampment – to avoid making ritually impure the place where G-d dwelt among them.

Next, Moshe explained laws concerning theft of another’s property and the one-fifth penalty added in restitution. When it wasn’t known whom to repay, compensation was given to G-d via the agency of the Kohen; who was also entitled to receive Terumah from Bnei Yisrael.

Moshe shared the laws of Sotah; if a man suspected his wife of an adulterous liaison and was overcome by jealousy. The husband brought his wife before the Kohen along with a meal offering of one-tenth an Eipha of barley flour unaccompanied by oil or incense. This Minha was offered before G-d.

In an earthenware bowl the Kohen took holy water and mixed in earth from the Mishkan’s floor, he uncovered the head of the woman – who held her meal offering while the Kohen held the water mixture. The Kohen made her swear an oath and a curse if she had sinned with another man, warning her of the consequences. Were she to be lying, the bitter waters she would have to drink, would cause her stomach to bloat and her thighs to collapse. She was asked to say Amen, Amen.

The oath was written in G-d’s name in a scroll and then its erasure was added into the waters. While the woman was given this liquid to drink, the Kohen brought her close to the Altar, removed the Azkarata (symbolic handful) and offered her Minha. Had she sinned, the punishment would evidence her wrong-doing. If she was innocent, she would be blessed to have a child. This was the ritual procedure in cases of marital jealousy.

Bnei Yisrael were instructed in the laws concerning a Nazerite (one who vows to temporarily abstain from pleasures). Both a man and a woman could vow to refrain from wine and its derivative products – including grapes fresh or dried. During the days of abstinence, one let their hair grow and refrained from contact with death – even were it to occur among one’s most immediate relatives. For this was a time of great sanctity.

If inadvertently the Nazir came in contact with a corpse, her/his vow would be interrupted, and they would have to bring atonement. On the seventh day from contamination s/he would shave their head and on the 8th day bring 2 pigeons or turtle doves as an offering; one as burnt- and the other as sin-offering. The Kohen slaughtered these along with a one-year-old sheep, restoring the Nazir’s sanctified status. The previous days would not be counted in the total, and the acolyte Nazir had to begin again from the start.

Upon completing their period of abstinence, a Nazir brought the following sacrifices: a lamb an ewe and a ram; a basket of matsot, matsa cakes covered in oil, their minha offerings and libations. The lamb and ewe were sin offerings and the ram a peace offering. The Nazir shaved-off their hair in front of the Tent of Meeting; it was put on the altar fire before the peace offering. The Kohen placed the ram’s thigh along with matsot in the Nazir’s hands, waving them before the Altar. Afterwards, the Nazir drank wine. This was the Nazir ritual.

Aharon was commanded in the proper way to bless Bnei Yisrael:

May G-d bless and protect you.
May G-d shine a face upon you and give you Grace.
May G-d lift a face upon you and grant you peace.
[G-d said] When you place my name on Bnei Yisrael, I will bless them.

On the day Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan, anointing it, sanctifying it and its vessels, the heads of tribes donated 6 wagons and 12 bullocks for transporting the Mishkan. G-d told Moshe to distribute the wagons – 2 wagons and 4 bullocks went to Gershon and 4 wagons and 8 bullocks to Merari. The work of Kehat was to carry the holy vessels on their shoulders.

For the ensuing 12 days, a head of each tribe brought an identical offering at the Mishkan’s dedication. This included; a large silver platter weighing 130 shekels and a large silver basin weighing 70 shekels, each filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a minha offering. A golden spoon weighing 10 shekels filled with incense; an ox, lamb and ram for a burnt offering; a goat as a sin offering; two oxen, 5 rams, 5 goats and 5 lambs for a peace offering.

[The daily order followed the encampment pattern of the tribes. See chart below.]

Order of Gifts by Tribal Princes:

DAY 1              Yehudah –       Nakhshon ben Aminadav
DAY 2              Yissakhar –     Netanel ben Tsuar
DAY 3              Zebulun –        Eliav ben Heylon
DAY 4              Reuben –         Elitsur ben Shedayur
DAY 5              Shimon –         Shelumiel ben Tsurishadai
DAY 6              Gad –              Elyasaf ben De’uel
DAY 7              Ephrayim –      Elishama ben Amihud
DAY 8              Menashe –      Gamliel ben Pedatsur
DAY 9              Binyamin –      Avidan ben Gidoni
DAY 10            Dan –               Akhiezer ben Amishadai
DAY 11            Asher –            Pagiel ben Okhran
DAY 12            Naftali –           Akhira ben Einan

Finally, the Torah offers a tally of all the gifts.
12 silver plates x 130 shekels (1,300)
12 silver basins x 70 shekels   (+ 700)            = 2,000
12 golden spoons x 10 shekels          =    120

Burnt Offerings:                                               Peace Offerings:
12 oxen                                                           24 oxen
12 lambs                                                         60 rams
12 rams                                                           60 goats
60 lambs

Sin Offerings:
12 goats