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Parashat Naso

June 2, 2009

By Molly Karp

begins with the continuation of the counting of the Gershonites and the
Merarites, the Levites who are responsible for transporting the hangings, poles,
planks and hardware of the Tent of Meeting. Just as the Tabernacle would not be
complete without all of its parts, so too, the Levitical family would not be
complete without all of its members.

the wilderness camp as a nest of concentric circles: the Torah places the space
for holiness, God’s presence, at the center, surrounded by the precincts of the
Mishkan, surrounded by the Levites, who are surrounded by the Israelites.

The parashah

continues with a number of apparently unrelated cases. We learn that anyone who
has become tamei, (unfit to approach the Holy space) is to be removed
from the camp, so as not to render the entire camp tamei
– unfit for God’s presence within it. We learn that any Israelite who commits a
wrong to a fellow breaks faith with Adonoi.

curious case of the sotah, the suspected adulteress, follows. While an
actual adulteress faces clear and certain consequences, the sotah is
only suspected of adultery, and cannot be punished outright. Two possibilities
are addressed: either the wife has committed adultery but there are no
witnesses, breaking faith with her husband without consequence, or the husband
is jealous without cause, breaking faith with his wife by mistrusting her
without proof.

the sotah we learn about the nazir, who takes vows of abstinence that
set him or her apart to Adonai. The nazir does not consume anything made
from grapes, does not cut or shave the hair of his head, and does not go in
where there is a dead person. In these ways the nazir separates himself
from the community, becoming not quite like the Priest, not quite like an
Israelite, neither here nor there.

What do
all of these – the one who is tamei, the one who wrongs his or her
neighbor, the sotah and the nazir – have in common, and why is this important to
our parashah? All of these cases create breaches in the fabric of the Israelite
community. The case of the one who is tamei tells us what the danger is
in all the other cases; the presence of tum’ah makes the camp unfit for
the dwelling of God’s presence in Israel’s midst. When an Israelite
wrongs his or her neighbor, the text tells us that it is God who is wronged; we
can understand that, consequently, God’s presence is likely to depart the camp.
In the case of the sotah, a breach is created between husband and wife. The
nazir has separated him or herself from the community, creating a breach
of a different sort.

in the fabric of community prevent the community from being a place where God
can dwell. All of these tears must be mended in order for God’s presence to
dwell within the camp. The parashah contains instructions for repairing the
damage done in each of these cases. Only a community where members trust and are
at peace with each other can be a place where God’s presence can abide. Neighbors
who wrong each other, spouses who mistrust each other or are untrustworthy,
individuals who raise themselves higher than the place that God has allotted
for them in the camp must all take steps to repair the breaks in relationship that
they cause with their actions.

happens when these breaches are repaired and the fabric of the community is
made whole? God instructs Moses to have Aaron and his sons bless the community (Numbers
6), which now is fit to have God dwell in its midst:

24 The Lord bless you and protect

25 The Lord deal kindly and
graciously with you!

26 The Lord bestow His favor upon
you and grant you peace!

parashah concludes with the setting up of the Mishkan in the middle of the
camp, a tangible sign of God’s indwelling presence. The chiefs of each tribe
come with identical gifts, to be used by the Levites in the service of the
Tabernacle. Moses enters the Tent and hears God’s voice speaking to him. All of
the tribes have their place in God’s presence. All, Levites and Israelites
alike, are equally vital to the maintenance of a community where God can dwell.

May all
of us contribute, each in our own way, to the making of a community where God
can dwell, and may we be blessed to feel God’s presence among us in every
community where we find ourselves.


Karp is a rabbinical student at AJR.