Parshat Naso

Five Easy (?) Pieces
by Rabbi Zvi Grumet

Sandwiched between the careful description of the camp of the Jews in the first four chapters of Sefer Bemidbar Sinai and the lengthy description of the inauguration of the altar in chapter seven, the Torah informs us of five laws that apparently have little to do with the context in which they are set, or, for that matter, with each other. What possible link could there be between the command to send the impure out of the camp, the instructions regarding one who steals from a convert, the laws of a woman suspected of infidelity (Sotah), the laws of a Nazir, and the priestly blessings? Indeed, the Midrash was apparently bothered enough by this question to suggest linking two of the Mitzvot listed, yet a thematic linkage of them all is elusive.

Nechama Leibowitz, z"l, once suggested an idea that may be helpful in unraveling this mystery. The overwhelming concern of the beginning of this Sefer is with the structure of the camp. The critical questions relate to who belongs in the camp, who needs to be sent out, and what the nature of the camp is. Presumably, all of the above serve to create an environment in which the Divine Presence "feels comfortable" dwelling within the people, in fulfillment of the imperative Vehaya Machanecha Kadosh, "Your camp shall be holy." A closer look at the Mitzvot yields valuable insight into what elements are necessary for our camp to be considered holy.

First and most obvious is the expulsion from the camp of those with impurities. Aside from the obvious implications of this instruction, it is interesting that the Midrash notes that the impurities are part of Hashem's response to those engaging in anti-social behaviors such as tale-bearing. For the Shechina to truly dwell within the camp, the camp must be free of personal animus, Lashon Hara, and backbiting.

The very next Mitzva, however, adds an interesting twist. In all the instructions for the organization of the camp, with every tribe having its appointed place, there is no mention whatsoever of the place of the convert. Indeed, it is generally understood that the Gair had no specific place within the camp, and given the tribal nature of the people he probably would have been left outside the camp (Michutz Lamachaneh), both literally and figuratively. This could potentially lead the nation to believe that the convert could be treated as a second-class citizen at best, and likely with derision and scorn, as he was consigned to the very place that the social undesirables are sent. To counter that perception, the Torah immediately offers a special command of protection for the Gair, indicating clearly that any act of injustice to him is equated with an act of injustice toward Hashem Himself.

The first two Mitzvot, then, are designed to help establish a healthy, peaceful society. Such a society, however, cannot exist without the backbone of society - the family - being intact, and central to the fabric of any family is the implicit trust that the two heads of the household must have. When there is an air of distrust in a family, communication becomes garbled, and the family becomes dysfunctional, ceases to operate as a unit, and disintegrates into a haphazard and primitive orgy of selfishness. The Mitzva of Sotah is designed to quash any accusations of infidelity and help restore the healthy trust within the family unit.

Yet just as peace within the camp hinges upon the building blocks of its member family units, Shalom Bayit is contingent on the individuals within those families being at peace with themselves. The institution of the Nazir, particularly as described by Rambam, serves primarily as a means for the individual to conduct a self-evaluation and as a corrective for those individuals who find that their sense of self has lost its center.

The net message of these four Mitzvot is reminiscent of the apocryphal story told of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, who began his career filled with the idealism and drive to repair the whole world, only to successively scale his efforts back until at the end he came to recognize the difficulty in repairing even oneself. While the ultimate goal is preparing the camp to enable the Shechina to dwell in our midst, we too must successively scale back our efforts to recognize that before embarking on such a grand mission we must be aware first of ourselves and the impact we have on others around us.

What, then, of the final Mitzva in this series, the priestly blessing? Simply, it represents the benefit that accrues as a result of the hard work invested in the first four Mitzvot. If we truly construct for ourselves a holy camp, based on the highest standards of interpersonal behavior and personal Midot, then we truly merit the Divine Presence reflected in the expanding blessing of the Kohanim.

Family, Religion, and Nationality
by David Teicher

At the end of Parshat Naso, we see a description of the sacrifices each Nasi brought, even though they all brought the same things. We know that the Torah does not use extra text, so why doesn't the Torah just say, "The first Nasi brought this and all the rest of the Nesiim brought the same things?" Rabbi Zechariah Breuer gives an answer. He says that there are two other places where we see an entire story repeated. The first is when Avraham sent Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak. There we learn of the sign Eliezer prayed for. When Eliezer meets Rivka's brother, the Torah again tells us of the sign and Eliezer's realization of it. The other time we see a multiple telling is regarding the building of the Mishkan. The Torah tells us how the Mishkan is supposed to be built, with every detail. Then the Torah tells us that it was built, and does so word for word as per its instructions.

Rabbi Breuer teaches that Hashem put emphasis on these three items for a reason: the world revolves around each of these three things:

Getting married and having children who will grow up to serve Hashem.
Serving Hashem in the Mishkan and becoming close to Him.
Being proud, and not jealous, of one's Nasi when he goes to give the sacrifices because in a way, the whole tribe is there with the Nasi.

Heavily condensed, these become the tenets that we must always keep in mind to guard: family, religion, and nationality. By taking the Torah's queue and embracing these aspects of our lives, we are sure to become stronger Jews.

Food for Thought
Dani Gross

1) In last week's Food for Thought, question 2 asked why the criterion of being over 20 in order to be counted was mentioned more than once. In Naso, the requirement for Kohanim being between thirty and fifty to serve is repeated as well. What is the reason for repeating these criteria? Is there a connection between the repetition in this week's Parsha and the one in last week's Parsha?

If you have a response to this question, please contact us at Responses may be published upon agreement of the provider.

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