Weekly Reading Insights: Shavuot - Naso

Overview of the Festival Reading

To be read on Shavuot, 6 Sivan 5777/June 12, 2024
Torah: Exodus 19:1 - 20:23, Numbers 28:26-31; Haftora: Ezekiel 1:1-28; 3:12

The Torah reading for Shavuot describes the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai which occurred on this day, where G-d revealed Himself to the Children of Israel, entered into an eternal covenant with them, communicated to the them Ten Commandments, and summoned Moses to the top of the mountain to receive the Torah

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Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Naso - 9 Sivan 5777 /June 15

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

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 coming Tuesday evening and Wednesday (and Thursday outside of Israel) is the holiday of Shavuos. The tzadik, Rabbi Yisroel of Rushin, was a Chassidic Rebbe with a large following. He would speak each Shabbos during the meal of the day, with only one exception - the Shabbos before Shavuos. Shavuos is both the celebration of the giving of the Torah and the holiday of First Fruits. He would say that standing before the giving of the Torah was for him like a farmer with his uncollected harvest spread out in the fields. Last year's harvest is finished. And this year's harvest has not yet not yet been brought in…

How do we prepare for receiving the Torah? The traditional reason ( from the Tur) that the Torah portion Bamidbar (and sometimes Nasso) is always read before Shavuos is to guarantee that the portion B'chukosai is NOT the last portion read. The ancient scholars knew that B'chukosai and its curses were not the appropriate preparation for receiving the Torah. Receiving the Torah, the Jewish people's divine mission, has to be with joy and happiness.

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At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Naso, the national census that G-d commanded continues, counting the Jewish people and in particular the Levites, which was started towards the end of last week's portion. The opening verse says, "Raise the head of Gershon, them also." Rashi explains that G-d is saying, do just as I commanded you, (count the Levite family of Gershonas you did) the (Levite) family of Kehas.

Gershon was the first born. Firstborns have an important status and are given an extra share of honor. They were meant to be the priests, serving G-d in the Mishkan (the portable Temple). Only because they did not come to help Moshe in the slaying of the idol worshipping perpetrators during the sin of the Golden Calf was that privilege taken from them. Why were we not told to count Gershon first? Why did we start with Kehas?

One reason given (see Meam Loez) for counting Kehas first is that their clan was assigned to carry the most holy vessels of the Mishkan, among them the Holy Ark. This privilege was allotted to them because of the great personages that came from their family, among them Moshe and Aharon. It would not have been appropriate to count Gershon first.

The Torah is infinite. Now that we know the reason for this inconsistency, maybe we also can see a hint in their names which will shed further insight?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the name Gershon is from the word garesh, to divorce. It is a hint to serving G-d by separating ourselves and pushing away the negative, like stopping to do a sin or quitting a bad habit. In Hebrew this is called sur m'rah, pushing away evil.

The name Kehas is from the verse in Genesis (49/10) "And he will collect ('yikhas' in Hebrew) together the nations". It is a hint to serving G-d by gathering and doing positive actions, like doing a mitzvah or deciding to begin a positive behavior. In Hebrew this is called aseh tov, doing good.

Gershon was born before Kehas. In general, the order in life as it is in spiritual work is first to push away evil and then move on to doing good. When we prepare a palace for a king, first we clean out all the refuse (pushing out the evil) and only after do we bring in the beautiful vessels (doing good).

So after all of that, why did the Torah command us to start with counting Kehas? Because the Torah wanted to teach us an important lesson: Even if it is first, the whole purpose of pushing away evil is only as a preparation for doing good. On a macro level, what is the true intention? To do good!

In 1941 the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, instituted a program that provided Jewish children in New York public schools with an hour of weekly Jewish studies. Every Wednesday afternoon hundreds of student volunteers from Lubavitch Yeshiva would interrupt their studies for several hours, travel to their appointed school, gather the children to a local synagogue and teach them about their traditions, then escort them back.

One studious young man wrote to the Rebbe asking to be excused from participating as he felt he was wasting his time. First, he wrote, he did not feel he was accomplishing very much. He said prayers with the children each week but did not feel it was having any long lasting effect. Second, the whole process took 3 or 4 hours at least, time that would be better spent furthering his rabbinical studies.

The Rebbe answered, "I want you to know, on Wednesday afternoons, all of the souls in Gan Eden, including Moses himself, envy you for this unique opportunity you have to say Shema Yisroel and recite a blessing with a Jewish child. Their souls no longer have the opportunity to interact with Jewish children and bring them closer to their Father in Heaven. Do you know what they would give for the privilege you have?" (from Seeds of Widom).

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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


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 Shavuot

one sample:

Laws and Customs
Why Cheesecake?

By Avraham Sutton

Kabbalah explains the mystical reasons for eating dairy on Shavuot for the sweet, nourishing words of Torah are likened to milk.

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