Weekly Reading Insights: Naso

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Naso - 12 Sivan 5775 /May 3

Torah: Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftorah: Judges 13:2-25 (the birth of Shimshon, connecting to the section about nazir)
Pirkei Avot:  Chapter 1

Naso is the 2nd Reading out of 10 in Numbers and it contains 8632 letters, in 2264 words, in 176 verses

Overview: Naso opens with tallying the three Levite families and defining their specific services in the dismantling, carrying, and assembly of the Tabernacle throughout the Jews' desert journeys. Next, Jews with various types of impurities are forbidden to enter different sections of the camp. Then, G-d commands the Jews about the restitution for sinning against a fellow Jew. Also discussed is the command to bring 'trumah'-crop-gifts to the priests. Next, the Torah speaks about the suspected adulteress, the test of her fidelity, and the consequences of her guilt or innocence. The parsha continues to discuss the vows, laws and scarifices of Nazirites. The following verses are the priestly blessing to the Jews (which are recited daily). The parsha concludes by listing the donations and sacrifices that each tribal prince brought to the Tabernacle.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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This week's Torah portion speaks about the commandment of confession and teshuvah (repenting). The verse says, "When a man or woman sin…they should confess the sins that they did" (5/7).

Rabbi Moshe Chagiz explains why the above verse about confession starts in the singular – "a man or a woman sin", but ends in the plural. "they should confess". This teaches that when each us confesses our sins, we have to also confess, and feel contrite and responsible for the sins of our fellow man. This is the inner meaning of the Jewish people acting as guarantors for one another. We are all connected. We really are all one.

In analogy: a group of people were in a boat in the middle of the sea. One of the passengers started knocking a hole in the floor of his cabin. All his friends screamed at him, but he shouted back, "What do you care? Can’t you see that I am knocking the hole in MY own cabin?"

Rabbi Chagiz concludes how all the Jewish people are guarantors for each other. Even when one person sins, it obligates and affects us all. The Jewish people are like one person. (Tzohar L’taiva)

Maimonides explains this verse in a way that seems difficult to defend. He says that the main requirement of teshuvah is the verbal confession alone and deems this confession as the fulfillment of the commandment for repentance. Yet how can confession be the main element of teshuva? We all know how easy it is to say “sorry” while not feeling real regret or any sincere commitment for true inner change. A few answers are suggested. Here is the Lubavicther Rebbe's:

The Talmud (Makos 23/72) teaches that the 248 positive commandments are related to the 248 organs of the human body. The Zohar (volume A/170/b) teaches that the 365 prohibiting commandments are connected to the 365 veins and sinews in the body. Chassidut explains that the organs of the body, the veins and sinews, the positive and prohibitive commandments and our souls are all connected. The soul also has 613 (248+365) powers (Tanya ch. 51). When a person is complete in his observance of the commandments, his soul is also complete. Similarly, if he is missing a commandment, or damaged in some way his observance, the aspect of the soul that relates to that physical organs is also missing or damaged (Likutei Torah, Netzavim).

Amazingly, teshuvah can repair this damage! A contrite heart and a complete soul are connected. Teshuva's source is from an even higher place than all the commandments. It is from the most inner depths of a person’s heart that is connected in the most supernal element of his soul—an element that is beyond the world and its influences, the part of our soul that only wants truth and to be connected to the infinite Divine. This level of the soul is the source of all the 613 soul powers, and from this place a new force repairs any existing damage, and completes the person.

For this reason Maimonides defines confession as the commandment and not the actual act of repenting—of feeling regret and committing to change. He counted as commandments only those actions that are connected to one of the 613 soul powers. Since teshuvah is from a higher place—so high that it can actually repair damage within the other powers—therefore only confession, an act of speech, is counted within the 613.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


This week's story from Yerachmiel Tilles, managing editor of ascentofsafed.com and kabbalaonline.org

From the Kabbalah Commentaries on the Chumash ("5 Books of Moses")

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar

a sample for this week:


"If someone makes a vow of abstinence" [6:2]

The Torah has described degrees of sanctity among the Jewish people, such as the High Priest and the Levites, all of which were attained through birth. It would be easy for the ordinary Israelite to assume that he could not aspire to a higher degree of sanctity than what he had been born with. The Torah therefore describes that by making a vow and assuming additional obligations, every Jew can raise the level of his sanctity. In fact, he can attain a measure of sanctity comparable to that of the High Priest, in that he may not defile himself by participating in the burial rites of his closest relatives. Whereas the High Priest attains such sanctity only through appointment by others, i.e., the High Court selecting him, the Nazir can achieve this by his own efforts, independent of anyone else's input. To this end, the highest placed persons among the Israelites are urged to add to their sanctity by denying themselves items which are permitted per se.

The reason the Torah has not forbidden wine or alcohol, but, on the contrary, has arranged for many commandments to be performed by means of drinking wine, using it to sanctify the mitzvah, is to teach us the proper use of wine. The Torah, at the end of our passage, actually exhorts the erstwhile Nazirite to drink wine upon completion of the period of his vow (verse 20).
Objectively speaking, wine is a blessing, a successful grape harvest is a sign of G-d's blessing (Deut.7:13). However, the Torah addresses a person who wishes to counter the urge he has to indulge in drink to the point of drunkenness. This is the person whom the Torah describes as ish ki yafli, the man who wants to distinguish himself by denying himself pleasure inducing indulgences. Certainly, the Torah does not approve of people, who make a vow of abstinence because of anger, or to show off their self control. The reason the Talmud cited seeing a sotah woman in disgrace as the catalyst that prompted a person to make a vow of abstinence, is to show that only when a person's motivation is the avoidance of becoming involved in sin, infidelity etc. does the Torah approve, or even counsel temporary abstention from wine and alcoholic drink.

(Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

For the rest of "The Masters of Kabbala and Chumash" on this Weekly Reading; and on all the other Readings.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Naso

one sample:

Chasidic Masters

Kabbalistic Hair Styles

By Yosef Y. Jacobson

A nazirite is prohibited to cut his hair. The Chasidic masters teach that hairs act as "straws" transmitting profound and inaccessible energy. Each strand of hair, shaped like a straw, communicates a level of soul-energy that due to its intensity cannot be communicated directly, only through the "straw" of hair, through the contracted, and curtailed medium of hair, which dilutes the intense energy.

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