Naso

  • Rav Nathaniel Helfgot

Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT NASO

by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot

Parashat Naso is, at first glance, a lengthy sidra made up of diverse laws and narratives that seemingly have little, if any, connection to each other. In broad strokes, the parasha can be divided in to the following units:

1) The census and traveling assignments of the Levite families of Gershon and Merari (The Kehat clan appears at the end of last week's parasha, Bamidbar); Ch. 4:21-49.

2) Sending out of those who are ritually impure - TAMEI - from the camp; Ch. 5:1-4.

3) Details of asham gezeilot, the korban of misappropriation, including the detail of gezel ha-ger; Ch. 5:5-10.

4) The laws of sota; Ch. 5:11-31.

5) The laws of nazir; followed by the birkat kohanim (the priestly benediction of protection and peace); Ch. 6.

6) The dedication of the mishkan by the nesi'im; the tribal princes; Ch 7.

There are a number of medieval and modern commentaries who tend to eschew the search for conceptual connections. They argue, rather, that the links are to be found in associative or literary bridges. Thus, for example, Ibn Ezra and Moshe David Cassutto see the link between section 3 and 4 as rooted simply in the linguistic association of the term "ma'al"- betrayal or improper behavior which appears in both 5:6 and 5:12. (see Prof. Nechama Leibowitz, "Studies on Bamidbar" Parashat Naso 1). Other commentaries such as Ralbag, however, looked for thematic connections and we will follow their lead in suggesting some ideas in this vein.

A.The first part of the parasha is, in essence, the tail end of parashat Bamidbar and could have been presented together with the census of the Kehat clan at the opening of Ch. 4. In fact both sections begin with the exact same formulation: "NASO ET ROSH benei Kehat mitokh benei Levi" (4:2) "NASO ET ROSH benei Gershon gam hem" (4:22).

(This similarity gives rise to the not uncommon mixup on Shabbat in shul, where the ba'al korei will begin reading from the "wrong" verse starting with the phrase "NASO ET ROSH." If the person receiving the aliya has already made the blessing, there is a complicated halakhic problem, so make sure that the ba'al korei checks that he is reading the right section to avoid this halakhic quagmire!).

This phraseology ("naso et rosh") is not found in 4:29 where the Torah presents the census of the Merari clan, indicating that this is an "opening" formulation which clearly highlights two units amongst the Levi'im: Kehat and Gershon/Merari. This is also indicated by the slight difference in language:

"Naso et rosh benei Kehat MITOKH HA-LEVI'IM" ("from among the levi'im) whereas parashat Naso begins:

"Naso et rosh benei Gershom GAM HEIM (as well)". The Torah is emphasizing the uniqueness of the Kehat sub-tribe within the tribe as Levi.

The reason for this distinctiveness is clear in that Kehat is responsible for the maintenance of the actual vessels of the "kodesh" area in the mishkan including the primary task of transporting the aron ha-kodesh. Situating the census and presentation of the roles of Gershom and Merari in a separate parasha highlights the unique role of Kehat. At the same time, this very arrangement of the material highlights the seamless transition from Bamidbar to Naso. Bamidbar and the spillover into Naso of the counting of the levi'im, is basically about the organization of the Jewish people into an efficient and cohesive unit, nestled around the mishkan at its center. In short, it is the attempt to structure the diverse strands of the ragtag units of klal Yisrael into a "machaneh kadosh" - a holy encampment ready and able to travel for a few weeks or months through the desert as well as to fight and ultimately conquer the land of Israel. Throughout the section, the key phrases are the notion that the census and organization were done "ka'asher tziva Hashem" or "al pi Hashem be-yad Moshe" (see 1:54; 2:34; 3:51; 4:38,49).

B.In this light, the rest of the parasha can be seen as an expansion of the concept of setting up the ideal encampment with God at the epicenter of life. The first section of Ch. 5 deals with the "sending out" from the camp those persons who are "tamei," such as the metzora and the tamei le-nefesh until they have undergone a process of purification. The Torah emphasizes that the purpose of this exclusion from the camp is that "they should not defile their MACHANEH IN WHICH I DWELL IN THEIR MIDST" (verse 3). It is no coincidence that these four verses contain no less than five uses of forms of the word "machaneh" emphasizing the connection to the previous sections. This also helps explain the seeming redundancy of this passage after a similar section in parashat Metzora in Sefer Vayikra. The Netziv and others point out that we already know that the metzora is to be situated outside the camp from the verses in Vayikra 13:44-5 "The tzaru'a ... shall sit alone, his place is outside the machaneh. The Netziv attempts to find a technical halakhic distinction in order to explain the repetition in our parasha. A more direct approach would be to notice the two entirely different perspectives that are at the heart of the differing passages. The section in Vayikra focuses on the individual's "tum'a ve-tahara" process. It is part of the general laws dealing with ritual purity and impurity, presented in absolute terms to all generations. The focus is on the individual and his responsibilities: "His clothes shall be torn ... he shall be called 'tamei tamei' ... He shall sit alone." Therefore, the focus is exclusively on Metzora, which is the context of the discussion. In sharp contrast, our section here is not about Hilkhot Tum'a ve-Tahara per se; rather, but rather addresses the issue from the perspective of the TZIBUR, the community. The parasha imposes on the community as a whole a responsibility to ensure the integrity of the sanctity of the camp. To use halakhic terminology, it is not a din in "tum'a ve-tahara" but rather a din in "kedushat ha-machaneh." Therefore, the Torah includes all types of tum'a and not just metzora, as the question here is the sanctity of the camp and not the purification of the individual as it was in Sefer Vayikra. Theses two different contexts yield significant halakhic ramifications. The Rambam (Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira 3:1-2) codifies that there is an obligation to send out all "temei'im" from the machaneh, defined as the area of the mikdash/mishkan - "machaneh shekhina," based on our verse here in Bamidbar. However, states the Rambam, the metzora has an added stringency that he is expelled from all three camps including machaneh Yisrael, based on the verse in Vayikra - a "BADAD yeshev." Conceptually, this fits perfectly with the distinction we have outlined above. From the perspective of Hilkhot Kedushat Ha-machaneh, leaving the area of the mikdash suffices to fulfill the removal of Tum'a from co-dwelling with the shekhina. However, from the perspective of the Hilkhot Metzora, the metzora's own personality require that he be totally isolated, outside of all three camps.

C.The next section of the parasha, the asham gezeilot portion, also can be read in light of the structure we have outlined. This passage, at first glance, belongs back in Vayikra 5, when the asham korban was introduced. In that passage the Torah outlines a number of scenarios including violations of laws between man and God and those between man and man. In our passage, however, the Torah focuses on one particular unit within the laws of the asham, where one has stolen an object and has denied it in court under oath. It would appear that here, too, the Torah is not expanding on Hilkhot Korbanot. The topic is Hilkhot Tzibur and the establishment of a just and holy machaneh around the mishkan. It is striking to note two points that emerge from a comparison of the section here and in Vayikra. In Vayikra 5:21-5 the Torah refers to the stolen object as "ha-gezeila" while the term "asham" ireserved for the actual sacrifice. In our passage the Torah purposefully chooses to call the stolen object "asham" no less than three separate times. Compare for example Vayikra 5:21: "Ve-she'elam OTO be-rosho ve-chamishito yosef alav" to Bamidbar 5:7 "Ve-heishiv et ASHAMO be-rosho ve-chamishito yosef alav."

In fact, the Torah mentions the Korban here almost as an afterthought - "Milvad leil ha-kippurim asher yechupar bo alav" 5:8. In our section, the "asham" is the object or money that was stolen. The focus is on the harm done to one's fellow man and ultimately to the moral fiber of society as a whole. Here the Torah is not concerned with Hilkhot Korbanot as much as with how to maintain the integrity of the machaneh as kadosh.

In this context the presentation of the sota passage is readily understandable. This passage deals with the very fundamental structure of the entire camp. It focuses on the marital unit and creates a mechanism to root out false suspicion and mistrust as well as any defilement of the marital bond that has taken place. It is tied linguistically to the previous portion - "ma'ala ma'al" - but also fits in contextually. The Torah is trying in these early parshiot to set up the ideal structured camp in which sanctity and devotion to God's mission will be paramount. The mistrust and potential conflicts and unraveling of the family unit is thus a threat to the stability and viability of such an endeavor. It is interesting to note that throughout the Sota section the Torah describes infidelity as tum'a. It is not sin as much as defilement of the camp and the basic structure of the society, similar to the metzora.

D.Given this structure, the next sections in the parasha, nazir and the dedication of the mishkan by the nesi'im, present a problem. It is possible to suggest that the Torah specifically presents these two sections here as a POINTED CONTRAST to a potential danger emerging from the first five chapters of the Sefer. As we mentioned above, one of the key phrases throughout the first five chapters is "ka'asher tziva Hashem" or " Al pi Hashem be-yad Moshe." The camp was structured in exact compliance with the dictates of God. The meticulous counting and the division of the Jewish people by clearly defined roles, as well as the internal hierarchy even within the levi'im presents a highly structured and ordered society. In such a context, the notion of individual initiative and novel approaches certainly is muted. It would seem that the Torah specifically chose to present the Nazirite laws, which open with the phrase "If a man or a woman (desires) to make a vow of becoming a nazir to God," as a statement of the acceptance, within the proscribed boundaries, of the possibility of personal religious and spiritual quests that are not necessarily inherent in the formal structure of the mishkan order and its assigned roles.

E.In the same vein, the nesi'im passage reflects a similar notion. Here, too, we have a situation in which a group of people raise a spiritual initiative that is not rejected. God incorporates their wishes into the formal structure and accepts their free-will offering as legitimate and valid. The Ramban at the end of the parasha notes this element when he writes: "And the topic of this mitzva (the nesi'im portion) is similar to the section of Pesach Sheini(9:6) and the section of the benei Yosef (Ch. 36), where their ideas meshed with the ideas of God and we were (subsequently) commanded to perform this act for all generations." (The Ramban here refers to the fact that there is a dedication ceremony for each of the various later mikdashim, indicating that this is a "mitzva le-dorot."

Thus, we have in our section examples of human initiatives that are accepted and incorporated into the formal halakhic framework. In that way, parashat Naso initiates a major theme that runs through the book of Bamidbar. One of the central motives of the Sefer revolves around the role of human initiative and desires within the context of a divinely ordained structure and mission. This is at the root of parts of the narratives of Pesach Sheini, the complaints of Miriam and Aharon, the meraglim, the ma'apilim, the Korach incident, benot Tzelofchad, and other portions as well. One of the central questions in our Sefer, reflecting the transition from the original generation of slaves who left Egypt to the subsequent generation who will enter the Land is the exact place of human initiatives in the spiritual structure. It would seem that questions of motivation and sincerity play a critical role in God's acceptance and incorporation of human initiative within the scheme of the law. What clearly does emerge is that in Sefer Bamidbar there does not seem to be one uniform answer given by God to all cases of human impulse and initiative, as we shall see.


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