Shabbat Naso 5779 Dvar Torah from Rabbi Saul I. Grife
"Strength in Numbers!"
Parshat HaShavuah, the Torah portion this week is Naso, from Sefer Bemidbar, the Book of Numbers 4:21 - 7:89. "Naso" means "when you lift up", referring to the counting of the Levitic administrators that served the ancient Mishkan. Three clans were numbered - the Kohatites, the Gershonites and the Merarites. Those eligible to serve at that time amounted to 8,580 Levites. By ascertaining the number, the Israelites knew just how many Levites were available to assist the Kohanim in the priestly service. The Levites had a sacred calling to participate in sacrificial affairs. They supported the work of the priests and ensured that the sacrificial system worked smoothly and served the needs of the people.
No one Levite was able to do all the work needed to help the priests. But 8,580 added up to constitute a mighty force to make sure that the sacrifices were properly attended to. From this we learn that while one individual is capable of achieving much, many can accomplish that much more. I hope that each and every one of the 8,580 understood the importance of what they were doing and derived satisfaction from knowing that their contributions made a huge difference!
Later in this parsha, in chapter 6, the laws of the Nazirites are explained. A Nazir was a person who made the choice to completely separate him or herself from the main community for a limited period of time in order to elevate their personal spirituality and draw closer to God and to the Lord's will. By becoming a Nazir, one now lived in solitude. The Torah lists 3 prescriptions that the Nazirite had to follow:
1) s/he could not attend to matters of the dead including immediate family members,
2) s/he could not imbibe wine or any other intoxicant, and
3) s/he must refrain from cutting their hair.
These 3 prohibitions were designed to remind the Nazir that they had removed themselves from community life and need not worry about their appearance since they now lived alone.
Included in the process of living separately as a Nazir for a time was the requirement for the Nazir to bring a sin-offering. Why was this? Because while the Nazir undertook this venture to elevate himself, by removing himself from the community he weakened it by one during the time of his Naziriteship. Also, the Torah was trying to encourage people to realize that while they could strengthen themselves spiritually at times on their own terms, Tradition teaches that the greatest sense of strength and accomplishment comes when we are together and involved in each other's lives. If we allowed everyone to pursue their own spirituality on their own terms, this could signal the end of the Israelite nation! Therefore, the Nazir had to understand that whatever he accomplished alone was secondary to what he could accomplish with others. Again, the Nazir was destined to learn from that experience that again, like the Levites learned, while one person can achieve much, all of us together can achieve so much more!
Parshat Naso teaches us that there is true strength in numbers. Elie Wiesel, noted Holocaust author and lecturer said, "The Jews are often alone but Jews should never be alone!" He meant that while sometimes we feel uniquely targeted and isolated in the world, nevertheless, we still always have each other! May each of us feel the strength that comes from being a member of our families, our friends, BTBJ, the Jewish community and all of humanity.
This Dvar Torah marks my last one before the summer recess. Coincidentally, the priestly blessing is located in this parsha in 6:24-26. I can't think of a better way to wish you a happy, healthy, safe and meaningful summer vacation by conferring these words of blessing upon you...
May the Lord bless you and keep you!
May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
May the Lord bestow favor upon you and grant you peace!
May you all enjoy the summer!
God bless us all!