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Naso | Sota and Nazir: Why are They 'Out of Place?'

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Parshat Naso contains what appears to be a very strange progression of parshiot. After all, what logical connection exists between:

 The duties of the Leviim in chapter 4,
 The laws of "korban chatat" and "sotah" in chapter 5,
 The laws of "nazir" and "birkat kohanim" in chapter 6, and
 The dedication ceremony of the Mishkan in chapter 7?

Certainly, if we use our imagination, we could find some tangential connection between each of these parshiot, but the fact remains that in simple "pshat," these parshiot have almost nothing in common.

So why does the Torah record them together?

To your surprise, this week's shiur will not explain why they are indeed connected.

Instead, we will do exactly the opposite; we will explain why these parshiot do not follow in logical progression!

To understand why, we must consider the 'nuts and bolts' of Sefer Bamidbar. That means that we will analyze the sefer (as usual) in search of its unifying theme. While doing so, we will uncover a rather fascinating pattern, one that is unique to Sefer Bamidbar and explains why many of its 'pieces' just don't seem to fit.

As our Parsha series assumes that each "sefer" of Chumash carries a unique theme, we posit that we should be able to find a unifying theme that explains the structure of Sefer Bamdibar, just as we have found unifying themes that helped us understand the flow of parshiot in Sifrei Breishit, Shmot and Vayikra.

Nonetheless, finding such a theme for Sefer Bamidbar will be much more difficult, for it contains numerous parshiot that appear to be totally unrelated.

Take for example Parshat Naso. As we explained above, it provides us with an excellent example of a Parsha that contains many unrelated topics with no obvious explanation for their progression.

Parshat Shlach provides us with yet another example. After the story of the 'spies' (see chapters 13-14), we find a set of several totally unrelated mitzvot in chapter 15:

 The laws of "nesachim" for korbanot;

 The laws of separating "chalah" from dough;
 Laws concerning korbanot "chatat" of the nation;
 The story of one who publicly defiled the Sabbath;
 The mitzvah of tzizit;
 The story of Korach (in chapter 16), etc.

Furthermore, many of the mitzvot that we have mentioned in the above examples relate to the Mishkan and thus seem to belong in Sefer Vayikra!

So what's going on in Sefer Bamidbar?

To answer this question, we'll need to take out our 'macroscope' and set up a few charts and tables.

Divide and Conquer
Before we begin our analysis of the sefer, we must differentiate between the two basic types of 'parshiot' that we encounter when we study Chumash:

1) Narrative - i.e. the ongoing story of Chumash;
2) Commandments - i.e. the mitzvot that God commands Bnei Yisrael to keep for all generations.

In our study of Chumash thus far we have shown how:

 Sefer Breishit contains primarily narrative - i.e. the story of the Creation and God's covenant with the Avot.

 Sefer Shmot contains both narrative (the story of the Exodus, etc.) and numerous mitzvot (those given during Ma'amad Har Sinai).

 Sefer Vayikra contains primarily mitzvot, presented in thematic order, as well as two very short narratives.

Let's take a closer look now at Sefer Bamidbar in search of the relationship between its narrative and mitzvotBoard #1 charts its progression by differentiating between the story of Sefer Bamidbar (recorded in the left column) and its mitzvot (recorded in the right column). As you study this table, note the logical flow of its story in contrast to the random progression of its mitzvot.

Carefully study this table. Note how the narratives in the left hand column simply record the story of Bnei Yisrael's journey from Har Sinai (through the desert) until they reach Arvot Moav some forty years later. Thus, if Sefer Bamidbar did not contain any of the mitzvot that are listed in the right column, this story would constitute the theme of Sefer Bamidbar.

Note as well how most of the mitzvot l'dorot (i.e. those listed in the right column) appear to be totally unrelated (or at most tangentially related) to the ongoing narratives listed in the left column. Furthermore, almost all of these mitzvot seem to 'belong' in Sefer Vayikra!

A 'Break' in the Action...
Thus, the following pattern emerges: Sefer Bamidbar describes Bnei Yisrael's forty year journey from Har Sinai until they reach Arvot Moav. However, that narrative is periodically 'interrupted' by certain mitzvot, usually unrelated to that narrative, which appear to belong in Sefer Vayikra. [To use a "mashal" from the 20th century: the mitzvot of Sefer Bamidbar act as 'commercial breaks' [or sort of a "halacha yomit"] that interrupt the flow of its narrative!]

This structure is most definitely unique to Sefer Bamidbar. To explain how, we will compare this structure to the structures of Sefer Shmot and Sefer Vayikra.

Sefer Shmot, although it also combines both mitzvot and narrative, is fundamentally different than Sefer Bamidbar for its mitzvot constitute an integral part of its ongoing narrative! Let's explain.

Sefer Shmot records the story of Bnei Yisrael's journey from Mitzrayim until their arrival at Har Sinai. This includes the Exodus (chapters 1-13), the journey from Egypt until Har Sinai (chapters 14-17), Ma'amad Har Sinai, Chet Ha'Egel, and the building of the Mishkan (chapters 18-40).

However, these stories include several events during which God commanded Bnei Yisrael to keep certain mitzvot. For example, as Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt, they are commanded to keep the mitzvot of Pesach and Chag HaMatzot (which commemorate that event). At Ma'amad Har Sinai, they are given the Ten Commandments. As a reaction to Chet Ha'Egel (or as a perpetuation of Har Sinai), Bnei Yisrael are given the laws of the Mishkan.

Thus, the mitzvot that we find in Sefer Shmot are simply an integral part of its narrative!

[Note as well that the mitzvot recorded in Parshat Mishpatim (20:18-23:33) constitute the "sefer ha'brit" (see 24:3-7) over which Bnei Yisrael proclaim "na'aseh v'nishma" during the ceremony that took place at Har Sinai (see Ramban 24:1).]

Sefer Vayikra contains a totally different structure, which is almost the opposite to that of Sefer Shmot. Vayikra, as we explained in our shiurim, contains primarily "mitzvot l'dorot" organized by topic ("kedushat ha'Mishkan v'ha'am" or "torat kohanim"). The lone narrative that we do find in Sefer Vayikra, the dedication of the Mishkan (8:1-10:10) relates to the specific laws of korbanot that the beginning of the sefer discusses.

Thus, the structure of Bamidbar - an ongoing narrative, periodically 'interrupted' by 'unrelated' miztvot - is quite unique.

Ramban's Introduction
The above analysis can help us understand the strange statement made by Ramban in his introduction to Sefer Bamidbar:

"... and this book deals entirely with 'mitzvot sha'ah' (transient commandments) that applied only during Bnei Yisrael's stay in the desert..."

Then, a few lines later, he makes a very bold, yet puzzling, statement:

"This book does not contain any mitzvot l'dorot (commandments for all generations) except for a few mitzvot dealing with korbanot that the Torah began discussing in Sefer Vayikra, but did not finish their explanation there, and they are finished here instead." Note how Ramban differentiates between two types of mitzvot that are found in Sefer Bamidbar; one type - "mitzvot l'sha'ah " - belong in the sefer, while the other type - "mitzvot l'dorot" - do not belong!

[If you are not familiar with this distinction, here are a few examples:

1) "Mitzvot l'sha'ah" are commandments that were given specifically for the generation of the desert, such as:

 Organizing the camp around the Mishkan (chapters 1-4);
 Sanctifying the Leviim (chapter 8);
 Travel and encampment following the "anan" (chapter 9).

2)"Mitzvot l'dorot" are regular mitzvot, such as:

  The laws of "sotah" (chapter 5);

 The laws of "nazir" (chapter 6);
 The laws of Korbanot T'midim u'Musafim (chapters 28-29).]

The fact that Ramban makes this distinction between parshiot that belong and do not belong implies that Sefer Bamidbar indeed carries one primary theme, i.e. the story of Bnei Yisrael's forty year journey from Sinai to Arvot Moav. Those stories and mitzvot that relate to that topic 'belong' in the sefer; those mitzvot that are unrelated to that topic do not belong!

Although Ramban never explicitly tells us what the primary topic is, we can deduce it from two additional statements regarding the narrative of Sefer Bamidbar that he makes in his introduction:

"[This book contains... ] the miracles that were performed for Bnei Yisrael and how He began to deliver their enemies before them... and He commanded them how the Land should be divided among the tribes..."

Thus, according to Ramban, Sefer Bamidbar details the events that take place during Bnei Yisrael's journey from Har Sinai towards the Promised Land. This includes both the narrative that details those events, as well as the special mitzvot - mitzvot l'sha'ah - that Bnei Yisrael are given concerning that journey.

The mitzvot l'dorot, dealing with topics unrelated to the journey through the desert, do not belong in Sefer Bamdibar!

So why does the Torah include mitzvot that don't belong in Sefer Bamdibar? Unfortunately, Ramban seems to have left this question unanswered.

Where Do They All Belong?
Before we suggest our an answer to this question, let's review the list of mitzvot that don't belong in Sefer Bamidbar, and attempt to determine where they do belong.

After a quick glance at the list in the right hand column of Board #1, the answer is quite obvious: they belong in Sefer Vayikra. Take for example:

 Parshat "sotah" (5:11-31) and parshat "nazir" (6:1-21):

Both contain "torot" (ritual procedures) for korbanot (see 5:29 and 6:21). Thus (as we explained in previous shiurim) these parshiot belong with the other "torot" found in the first half of Vayikra.

 Parshat "parah adumah" (chapter 19):
Belongs in Parshiot Tazria/Metzora, together with the presentation of all of the other laws of how one becomes "tamey" and the necessary procedures to become "tahor."

 The laws of "korbanot t'midim u'musafim" (chapters 28-29):
Belong with the chagim in "Emor" (Vayikra 23). Note that on each holiday mentioned in Emor we must bring an "ishe l'Hashem." Sefer Bamidbar details the specific "ishe" (korban) that must be brought for each chag. (See Vayikra 23:37.)

Thus, it appears as though Chumash has deliberately taken parshiot that could have been in Sefer Vayikra and 'randomly' placed them throughout the narrative of Sefer Bamidbar! But why would the Torah take a mitzvah that 'belongs' in one sefer and move it to another?

One might suggest that these 'unrelated parshiot' are recorded in Sefer Bamidbar for the 'technical' reason that they just happened to have been given to Moshe Rabbeinu at this time (i.e. during the journey from Har Sinai through the desert). For example, the mitzvah of "shiluach t'mayim" (5:1-4) - sending unclean persons outside the camp - most likely was commanded only after the camp was organized (chapters 1-4).

[This most likely would be Ramban's answer, for he maintains that Chumash generally follows in chronological order ["yeish mukdam u'muchar..."].)

However, this approach explains only a very few parshiot. Most of the mitzvot l'dorot in Bamidbar must have been given at an earlier time, most probably on Har Sinai. For example, the laws of "tum'at meyt" (chapter 19) must have been given before the Mishkan was erected; otherwise it would have been impossible for the kohanim to perform the "avodah." Furthermore, certain mitzvot recorded in Bamidbar had already been mentioned earlier in Chumash (see, for example, 5:5-8 and compare with Vayikra 5:20-26).

Hence it would seem that this 'commercial break' pattern of Sefer Bamidbar is deliberate! And thus, our question remains: why does the Torah employ this unique structure?

The Pshat of Drash!
If this special structure of Bamidbar is deliberate, then the obvious temptation is to find a connection, even if only tangential, between these 'unrelated mitzvot' and the juxtaposed narrative in Sefer Bamidbar.

In fact this pattern may be the "pshat" of "drash." In other words, the Torah deliberately juxtaposes certain parshiot together, even though they were given at different times, and even though they appear to be unrelated, in order that we search for a thematic connection between them! Thus, the Torah is telling us through the 'pshat' of its structure that we are obligated to look for 'drash' as well. This unique style of Sefer Bamidbar challenges us to find a thematic connection between these "mitzvot l'dorot" and the ongoing story.

This also explains why so often the commentaries ask the famous question: "lama nis'm'cha..." (why are certain parshiot juxtaposed?). The Torah is telling us to ask this question.

Therefore, when we study Sefer Bamidbar, we should not be surprised to find certain parshiot of mitzvot that don't seem to belong. Nonetheless, we are 'obligated' to attempt to uncover a more subtle message that the Torah may be transmitting through the intentional juxtaposition of these mitzvot to its narrative.

With this background, we will now suggest possible reasons for the inclusion of these specific parshiot of mitzvot in Parshat Naso, even though they could have been recorded in Sefer Vayikra as well.

Sh'china in the Camp
The first topic of Sefer Bamidbar is the organization of the camp ("sidur ha'machanot") surrounding the Mishkan (chapters 1-4). As we explained last week, this re-organization of the camp stresses the importance of the interdependent relationship between the camp and the Mishkan, i.e. between the nation and the Kohanim and Leviim.

This may explain the reason that Sefer Bamidbar chose to include the parshiot that follow:

A) "Shiluach T'mayim" (5:1-4)
As the camp was organized with the Sh'china dwelling at its center, the first mitzvah is to remove anyone who is "tamey" from the camp.

B) "Gezel HaGer" (5:5-10)
Here we find laws that reflect the special relationship between the nation and the kohanim. This mitzvah begins with the standard law of the Korban Asham as explained in Parshat Vayikra (5:20-26). The halacha requires that prior to bringing the korban, the transgressor must first repay the person ("keren v'chomesh"). This parsha describes the case when the payment is given to the Kohen, i.e. when the person who is owed the money has passed away and left no inheritors (see Rashi 5:8). The parsha continues with a general statement regarding the legal ownership of tithes that the nation must give to the kohanim (see 5:9-10).

C) Parshat Sotah (5:11-31)
Here again we find a special relationship between the Kohanim (as servants in the Mishkan) and the nation, as the kohen is instrumental in solving problems in a marital relationship. Even though this is a korban mincha, its nature is quite different from those mentioned in Sefer Vayikra (see Ramban 5:9).

D) Parshat Nazir (6:1-21)
Here we find a case where a member of the nation takes upon himself laws similar to those of a Kohen (see 6:6-8), as well as the 'kedusha' of a Kohen. Note also the similarity between the korban that the nazir must bring (6:13-21) and the special korbanot brought by the kohanim during the 7 day miluim ceremony (8:1-30).

E) Birkat Kohanim (6:22-27)
The blessing that the Kohanim bestow on the nation is yet another example of the connection between the Kohanim and the machaneh. The kohanim serve as vehicle through which God can bless His people.

Travelling with the Sh'china
Why are specifically parshiot from Sefer Vayikra woven into Sefer Bamidbar? This structure of Bamidbar may reflect a 'way of life.' In our study of Sefer Vayikra, we explained how the kedusha of the Mishkan (first half of Vayikra) affects the kedusha of the entire nation (second half). This fundamental concept is now applied to Sefer Bamidbar. The Torah periodically interrupts its detail of the journey of Bnei Yisrael through the desert with mitzvot that deal with the special connection between the kohanim and the nation.

As the nation leaves Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael begin to deal with mundane tasks such as preparation for the conquest of the Land. At the same time they must constantly remind themselves of their spiritual goals, symbolized by the Mishkan at the center of the camp.

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