Numbers 4:21–7:89; Judges 13:2–25; John 11:1–54
“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take a census [Naso et rosh] of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ houses and by their clans.” (Numbers 4:21–22)
Last week in Parasha Bamidbar (In the Desert), God commanded Moses to take a census of Israel. This week’s Parasha continues with the theme of numbering of the Levitical families, as well as the detailing of their duties.
The title to this week’s Parasha, Naso, means to “lift up” or “elevate” and was the term used to take a head count (census) of the children of Israel. In the Hebrew it reads, lift up the heads (naso et rosh).
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Messiah.” (Galatians 6:2)
Naso is the longest portion in the Torah cycle. In it God instructs Moses to specify the duties of each family in serving the community and the Lord. In this way, the burden would be distributed so that it would not be too heavy for just a few people.
All too often, the weight of the service of the Lord falls on the limited number of individuals willing to volunteer for the sake of the kehilla (community).
This is not how the early Messianic community behaved. Believers had a communal lifestyle in which they helped one another and shared all things in common.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44–45)
This concept of kehilla often seems lacking in modern society. Many people today live in isolation and are concerned primarily with meeting their own needs and not those of the common good.
In Israel, kehilla fed the ideology behind the early kibbutz movement; however, even that has generally floundered in favor of a more capitalistic system.
Helping to carry one another’s burdens is a way of demonstrating our love for one another and is the fulfillment of the law of Messiah (Galatians 6:2).
We are called to fulfill the Torah of loving one another by helping bear each other’s burdens.
This can be accomplished in practical ways by relieving those who are overloaded with responsibilities. It can also be accomplished through extending encouragement and comfort to those who carry heavy emotional burdens, although practical help should not be neglected.
Yeshua (Jesus) is an example to us in this respect. He is always willing to bear our burdens, and this is a source of comfort when people let us down or fail to do their part and leave us carrying more than our share of the load.
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Women in Service
In this Parasha, those listed for service in the Tabernacle are all men.
In respect to carrying the heavy equipment and guarding the Tabernacle, men were appointed, although the women and children of the Levites were included in the protective buffer zone that God created around it.
In that society, the women were primarily occupied with caring for the children, extended family and household.
Even in Orthodox synagogues today, women are not required to perform many of the religious tasks and obligations that the men do.
Rather than be offended by that division of responsibility, we should understand that the traditional role and domestic duties of women are central to the life of the people, and women are not expected to carry additional burdens.
Of course, there is some wisdom in that.
As well, women are considered to have more of a natural connection to God and, therefore, are not required to participate in some of the religious activities that bring a person closer to God.
The feminist movement fought hard to win equal rights for women so that they could be free to choose whether they would stay at home and focus on the family or work outside the home. These new opportunities were supposed to improve a woman’s quality of life.
Now that those rights are largely realized (in some places), it seems that women have taken on a double portion of work. All too often they do not receive the kind of support they need from their family or community as they work outside the home to provide for their family while continuing to carry the same load of domestic responsibilities.
The end result is often increased stress for women. Children also suffer when their mothers are overburdened and there is tension in the home.
This Torah portion may hint at the solution. Perhaps the equitable division of duties found in the kehilla is the answer.
One of the greatest blessings is that of a whole people being in unity.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard.” (Psalm 133:1–2)
Wives are specifically mentioned in this Parasha, as God gave to Moses the law of the Sotah, the wife suspected of unfaithfulness to her husband. Rather than allowing a husband to stew in justified or unjustified jealousy, that jealousy is brought to the Lord in the form of an offering for her.
She also underwent the ordeal of bitter waters to establish her innocence or guilt.
No law given by Moses, however, says that God will only use women in their domestic roles.
We do see in Scripture women performing a variety of roles, including leadership, and Judaism recognizes their callings as legitimate.
The woman described in Proverbs 31 is highly esteemed for her wisdom and work ethic at home, which was her primary responsibility, and also in the marketplace. In return for her efforts, she receives praise and blessing from her husband and children.
The Talmud (central rabbinic text) identifies in the Tanakh (Old Covenant) seven women as prophets to the people: Sarah, Miriam (the sister of Moses), Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther.
As well, the Midrash (Oral Law) identifies 23 women in Scripture as truly upright and righteous. That number includes the Shunammite woman who hosted the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4), the wise woman from Tekoa (2 Samuel 14), and the mother of Samson. (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [Eisenstein], 474)
The Nazirite Vow
Parasha Naso also describes the laws of the Nazirite, holy ascetics who do not cut their hair and take a vow of abstinence from any food grown on the vine, including wine. Many Nazirite vows are taken on a temporary basis, though some people live their entire lives under the vow.
The Hebrew root, nazir, means to be made separate. It is similar in connotation to the Hebrew word kadosh, which means holy or set apart from the profane.
A Nazirite is, therefore, separated from worldly activities to focus on serving God alone. One of the most famous Nazarites in Scripture and described in today’s Haftarah (Prophetic portion) is the man with superhuman strength: Shimshon (Samson).
The angel of the Lord instructed Samson’s mother even before his birth to raise him as a Nazirite:
“Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:4–5)
This demonstrates the fact that God has a plan, a purpose and a destiny for a person even while still in the womb.
God also confirmed this when He said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Sadly, Samson did not act with the humility and consecration required of his calling as a Nazirite.
He indulged his fleshly appetites and married a Philistine woman against his parent’s wishes, an act of rebellion that led to his downfall.
There is perhaps a curious connection between the law of the Nazirite and the law of the unfaithful wife, which are both discussed in this Parasha.
The laws of Sotah begin with a Hebrew word ma’al, meaning trespass or embezzlement. This emphasizes the sacredness of the vows of marriage by revealing that any spousal unfaithfulness is a trespass.
The first act of unfaithfulness toward God occurred in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit.
Jewish tradition holds that the Tree of Knowledge was a vine with grapes, the ingredient of wine that a Nazir vows not to drink. This helps to keep him holy because under the influence of wine or strong drink, he may be more vulnerable to the temptation to sin against God.
Both the vow of marriage and the vow of the Nazirite are precious in God’s sight. As well, He expects us to keep our vows.
“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?” (Ecclesiastes 5:4–6)
Finding Peace for Our Lives: The Aaronic Benediction (Birkat Kohanim)
“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites.'” (Numbers 6:23)
This portion of Scripture provides the important priestly blessing called the Aaronic Benediction (Birkat Kohanim). It is also known as Nesi’at Kapayim (lifting of the hands) because the priests release the blessings with uplifted hands.
Only adult males over Bar Mitzvah age (13 and up) who are descendants of Aaron perform this benediction and only in the presence of a minyan (a quota of 10 adult males).
Although a minyan consists of only males in Orthodox Judaism, more liberal sects allow for the inclusion of women.
According to Jewish custom, the Kohen (priest) may not recite the blessing under the influence of alcohol or after the recent death of a close relative. Other conditions disqualify a Kohen from participating in the reciting of this special blessing, including a serious speech impediment, having taken a human life, blindness, or marriage to a disqualifying woman (e.g., a descendant of Aaron is forbidden to marry a divorcee; his wife must be a virgin).
Today, during Biblical holidays, large crowds gather at the Kotel (Western Wall) to receive the priestly blessing from the Kohanim (Jewish priests).
Once assembled on a raised platform, the Kohanim recite the blessing with raised hands.
Traditionally, congregational members cover their heads with their tallitot (plural for tallit—prayer shawl) and do not look directly at the Kohanim during the reciting of the benediction. A man’s children, even if grown, will come under their father’s tallit for the blessing, as well.
This simple but eloquent blessing from (Numbers 6:24–26) is a benediction of love and peace consisting of the three best known verses in the entire Torah:
May the LORD bless you and guard you
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace
The blessing ends with what is considered by ancient Jewish sages as the “climax of all blessings”—shalom (peace). The word shalom, however, not only means peace, hello, and goodbye, it also carries the connotation of wholeness, completion and perfection.
The rabbis contend that shalom is one of the pillars of the world and that a household cannot stand when it is divided through strife.
Everyone seeks peace, but how can it be achieved and maintained?
It is not enough to simply receive the blessing of peace from the Kohanim if we then go out and create strife.
The Bible instructs us to live in peace with everyone as far as it depends upon us, (Romans 12:18). In reality, much of the peace in our life (or lack thereof) does depends on us and not others.
One major source of strife in our life is our tongue. The rabbis believe we can have peace through avoiding lashon hara (literally, an evil tongue), which is sin such as slander, careless speech or speaking in a rude manner toward others.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Unity must be fostered through speech and action. That is how we carry one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Messiah.
The world around us is far from peaceful. The prophets promised us a day, when the Messianic age arrives, that nation will not lift up sword against nation and they will no longer learn war.
In that day even the beasts of the field will lie down together in peace: the wolf with the lamb, the leopard with the goat and the calf with the lion. A young child will have no fear even of playing with a cobra or a viper. (Isaiah 11:6–9)
When will this time come? When Yeshua returns to rule and reign in peace and righteousness.
Until that time, we have peace if we allow Him to reign in our hearts and lives.
Peace is our very inheritance since Yeshua bequeathed it to us before He was executed by the Romans: “My peace (shalom) I leave with you.” (John 14:27)
It is a supernatural peace that passes all understanding.
May we each receive His blessing, divine protection, favor, the light of His face, and also peace, wholeness, and completion—in Him!
“For Messiah Himself has brought peace to us.” (Ephesians 2:14)