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Parshas Naso - Vol. 11, Issue 36
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kehas, and Merari. Parshas Naso begins by detailing the parts of the Mishkan that were carried by Gershon's descendants in the wilderness, followed by a list of the objects that were transported by the offspring of Merari. Surprisingly, the parallel passage regarding the children of Kehas is found not in the beginning of Parshas Naso where it would seem to belong, but rather at the end of Parshas Bamidbar. Why is the delineation of the duties of the Levites divided between two different Torah portions instead of all being contained within the same portion?
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that the task of carrying the components of the Mishkan in the wilderness that was split amongst the three Levite families wasn't considered one uniform job which was divided three ways. Even though each function appears to be an element of the overall job of transporting the Mishkan, in reality there were three different assignments, each with its own unique focus and attributes.
The descendants of Kehas carried the holiest vessels in the Mishkan, including the Aron (Ark). Since Chazal teach (Sotah 35a) that the Aron miraculously carried those who appeared to be carrying it, this job involved only minimal physical exertion. Gershon's progeny were in charge of moving the Mishkan's assorted curtains and coverings, while the job of the children of Merari was the most physically strenuous, as they were responsible for carrying the heavy wooden beams and planks that formed the Mishkan's walls.
Rav Aharon Yosef Rosen notes that the annual cycle of Torah readings requires Parshas Bamidbar to be read before Shavuos (Tosefos Megillah 31b), while Parshas Naso is typically read afterward. Our Sages describe the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuos as a marriage between Hashem and the Jewish people (Taanis 4:8).
A marriage is comprised of many facets, which require different approaches and attitudes in order to succeed at them. When a groom is preparing for the actual wedding ceremony, he approaches it on the greatest emotional high, and just as the Aron carried those who seemed to be carrying it, so too he euphorically soars and floats to his wedding without any physical exertion.
However, after he is actually married, the responsibilities and obligations of the kesubah set in, and he must work harder to ensure that mundane needs such as walls and a roof are provided for, in order to enable his home to function properly. As he gets older and his family grows and his business expands, the physical labor incumbent upon him continues to increase, but although his outward duties change, the underlying goal remains constant: to build and maintain his personal Mishkan as a place of holiness and sanctity.
With this introduction, Rav Rosen explains that the Torah intentionally split its discussion of the duties of the three Levite families between Parshas Bamidbar and Parshas Naso so that they would be interrupted by the celebration of our marriage to Hashem on Shavuos. Prior to Shavuos, the Torah only records the responsibilities of the offspring of Kehas, who were carried by the Aron, just as a groom flies high to his own marriage.
After we depart the chuppah represented by the giving of the Torah, we turn to Parshas Naso, which begins with the job of the children of Gershon, who carried the Mishkan's walls and coverings, and continues to the physically challenging task of Merari's offspring, in order to parallel the natural evolution of marriage, and in order to inspire us to elevate our mundane responsibilities by viewing them as our sacred part in building and sustaining our own personal Mishkans.
Parshas Nasso discusses the laws governing a sotah, a woman who is suspected of infidelity. She must bring an offering to the Temple, but it is unique in several respects. Her meal-offering is brought from barley instead of wheat, and it contains neither oil nor frankincense. Rashi explains that these requirements are symbolic comments on her actions. Her offering is brought from coarse flour because she acted coarsely. It is made from barley, which is normally used as animal feed, because she acted in a degrading, animalistic manner.
Although other meal-offerings are beautified with oil and frankincense (Vayikra 2:1), her offering contains neither. Oil symbolizes light, while she acted in darkness in an attempt to conceal her sin. Frankincense represents the righteousness of the Matriarchs, but she veered from their path of piety.
Rav Ben-Tzion Brook derives from here a refutation of a common mistaken attitude. People presume that they will be judged by the Heavenly Court based on the level they reached during their lifetimes. They assume that they will be rewarded for their good deeds and punished for their sins, but never do they entertain the possibility that they will be held to the strict standards of the righteous Chofetz Chaim, who grew to levels of piety unthinkable for the average person. However, Rashi teaches us that at the same time the suspected adulteress is punished for acting like a lowly animal, she is simultaneously held accountable for her failure to reach the high levels attained by the Matriarchs.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus was once giving a lecture in South Africa about the importance of growth and change. After the lecture, a man came over to ask for guidance, as no matter how hard he tried to implement a regimen of daily Torah study, he never succeeded.
Rav Pinkus answered him with a beautiful parable. When a person drives a stick-shift car, he starts out in first gear and accelerates until he reaches a certain speed. At this point he switches to second gear, until he again reaches a speed which requires him to shift to third gear. If the driver attempts to continue accelerating while remaining in first gear, he will eventually overheat his engine.
Similarly, Rav Pinkus noted that while he had his own challenges in spirituality, finding time to study Torah daily wasn't among them. Because his mind was in "Rabbinical gear," the idea of passing a day without studying Torah was unthinkable.
This man was stuck in "spiritual first gear." Every time he attempted to "accelerate" his Torah study, his engine "overheated" and the project was doomed to failure. Rather than redouble his efforts to fit Torah study into his daily routine, Rav Pinkus suggested the better approach would be to switch his self-view by shifting into spiritual second gear. At this point the Torah study regimen would naturally fall into place as conducive with his new self-image. A person spends his time in this world trying to improve his ways; according to his level, he attempts to do more of the things he knows he should and to refrain from the actions he knows are beneath him. The lesson of the sotah is that a person should raise the spiritual bar by shifting gears and setting his sights even higher than he presently thinks feasible.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Torah requires (Bamidbar 5:6-7) a person who has stolen not only to return the stolen item but also to confess his sin to Hashem. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 1:1) derives from here that confession is an integral part of the repentance process for any sin which one has committed. Why did the Torah teach this obligation in regard to this specific sin? (Taam V'Daas)
2) Both a nazir and a Kohen are forbidden to become impure through contact with the dead. Why is a Kohen, whose laws should be more stringent since he is born with his holiness, permitted to have contact with dead relatives (Vayikra 21:1-3) while a nazir may not (6:6)? (Mishmeres Ariel)
3) Why are the blessings of Birkas Kohanim, which are only recited in the presence of at least 10 males, worded in the singular and not in the plural? (Darkei HaShleimus)
4) May a Kohen who has never been married, or who was widowed or divorced, recite the Priestly Blessing? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Mordechai Sotah 815, Shu"t Rashba 1:85, Beis Yosef and Darkei Moshe Orach Chaim 128, Shulchan Aruch Mishnah Berurah 128:162, Matamei Yaakov)
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