Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is found in the Book of Numbers 4:21-7:89, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Naso interlinear Hebrew/English.
God tells Moses: Lift up the heads of the Gershonites who are fit to serve in the Tabernacle -- those between the ages of 30 and 50. Single them out. They should carry the tapestries, the coverings, the curtains and the ropes and tools of the altar. Aaron and Ithamar will direct their work.
Count the Merarites who are of age to serve in the Tent of Meeting. They are responsible for the Tabernacle's beams, bars, pillars and sockets, as well as certain utensils. Ithamar also will oversee this work.
The Kohathites, Gershonites and Merarites are counted as per God's request: 2,750, 2,630 and 3,200, respectively. The total number of Levites eligible to serve in the Tabernacle and play music there is 8,580. Moses gives each of them specific assignments, too.
God tells Moses to command the Children of Israel to purify their camps. Any person who has tzara'at or is otherwise ritually impure must be sent outside of the camp.
The Children comply.
More instructions from God: If a person is found guilty of acting dishonestly and treacherously, he or she should confess and pay back the amount plus one-fifth. If there is no longer a person to pay back, he or she should give the amount to the priest, in addition to the atonement offering of a ram.
Whatever is given to a priest -- first fruits included -- belongs to the priest.
Questions: Why were the Gershonites singled out, while the Merarites were simply counted? Why are only the service-eligible Levites counted here? Why is the law about acting treacherously included here?
God tells Moses to tell the Children about dealing with the case of a wayward wife.
A hypothetical situation: A man is suspicious of his wife. He thinks she has committed adultery. He did not see the act, but he knows his wife was secluded with another man. There are no witnesses. She was not forced into the situation. The man even warned his wife not to seclude herself with this other person beforehand. The fact is, she was secluded with another man and may or may not have done the deed.
Here's how to figure out what happened: The man should bring his wife and an offering of barley flour on her behalf to the priest. This is a meal offering meant to remind of sin. The priest should bring the woman before God. He should take some earth from the Tabernacle floor and deposit it in an earthenware vessel filled with holy water. The priest should move the woman here, there and everywhere. He should remove her head covering. He should put the barley flour in her hand while he holds the holy water. He should place her under oath: If she has not slept with the man, she will be absolved through the bitter waters. If she has slept with him, she will choke and die, her belly will swell and her thigh will rupture, as will the belly and thigh of her unlawful lover. The woman must swear, saying, "Amen! Amen!"
The priest must write the curse on a parchment, including the name of God. He should then erase the writing in the bitter waters. He should wave the meal offering in the woman's hand before God. He should take three fingers of flour to burn on the altar. The woman should drink the water. If she refuses, she must be forced to drink. If she is guilty, the water will cause her to die, and her husband will not be responsible for her death. If she is innocent, the waters will not kill her, the couple can resume normal relations and she will easily bear children.
Questions: Why does the priest move the woman around so much, and why does he remove her head covering? How can the priest be allowed to erase God's name?
God tells Moses to tell the Children about the case of the Nazarite vow.
If a man or woman decides to take a vow of abstinence for God, these rules must be followed: He or she may not drink wine or any other drink or food that comes from grapes. He may not cut his hair. She may not come in contact with a dead body. He may not become ritually impure during the vow. The crown of God is upon him. The crown of God is upon her.
If someone dies unexpectedly in his presence during the vow, the Nazarite must wait seven days, ritually purify himself with water, shave his hair. Then he must bring two turtledoves or pigeons to the priest -- a sin-offering and a burnt-offering -- to atone for his sin. He should start growing his hair again and restart the days of his vow.
When the vow is complete, the Nazarite should bring himself to the Tent of Meeting, as well as these offerings: one perfect male lamb in its first year as a burnt-offering; one perfect female lamb in its first year as a sin-offering; one perfect ram as a peace-offering; a basket of unleavened bread, including 10 loaves of fine flour mixed with oil and 10 unleavened, anointed wafers; and appropriate meal-offerings and libations.
The priest should bring all of the before God. After the peace-offering has been slaughtered, the Nazarite should shave and place some of the hair on the fire under the ram. The priest should place the cooked foreleg of the ram, one unleavened loaf and one unleavened wafer on the hands of the Nazarite, waving the offering before God. This should be set aside for the priest.
Afterward, the Nazarite may drink wine.
Questions: Why is the Nazarite who has accidentally encountered a dead boy during his vow considered a sinner?
God tells Moses to tell Aaron and his sons how to bless the Children:
The priests should say to everyone, using God's name: May God bless you and keep you. May God cause the Divine Face to shine upon you and favor you. May God turn toward you and grant you peace.
On the day Moses sanctifies the Tabernacle, the leaders of the tribes of Israel bring offerings to God: six covered wagons and 12 oxen. Moses does not accept these offerings because God hasn't told him to do so.
God tells Moses to give the gifts to be used in the Tabernacle, so Moses gives them to the Levites.
The tribal leaders bring gifts for the dedication of the altar. But Moses does not know what to do with the offerings, as they were not commanded by God.
God tells Moses that one leader per day should give his gift.
On the first day, Nachson son of Amminadab of Judah brings gifts to honor royalty.
On the second day, Nethanel son of Zuar of Issachar brings gifts to celebrate Torah.
On the third day, Eliab son of Helon of Zebulun brings gifts to celebrate Torah and sponsor Issachar's love of Torah.
On the fourth day, Elizur son of Shedeur of Reuben brings gifts to memorialize their forefather's attempt to save Joseph from being sold into slavery.
On the fifth day, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai of Simeon brings gifts to honor the construction of the Tabernacle.
On the sixth day, Eliasaph son of Deuel of Gad brings gifts to remember the exodus from Egypt.
On the seventh day, Elishama son of Ammihud of Ephraim brings gifts to honor Jacob.
On the eighth day, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur of Manasseh brings gifts to honor Jacob and Manasseh.
On the ninth day, Abidan son of Gideoni of Benjamin brings gifts to honor Rachel.
On the 10th day, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai of Dan brings gifts to honor Samson the Nazarite.
On the 11th day, Pagiel son of Ochran of Asher brings gifts to commemorate God choosing the Jewish people.
On the 12th day, Ahira son of Enan of Naphtali brings gifts to honor the Mothers and the Fathers.
In total, the leaders bring 12 silver bowls, 12 silver basins and 12 gold spoons filled with incense; 12 bulls, 12 rams and 12 lambs for burnt-offerings; 12 young male goats for sin-offerings; 24 oxen, 60 rams, 60 male goats and 60 lambs for peace-offerings.
When God and Moses speak in the Tent of Meeting, Moses hears the same voice that was heard at Sinai coming from between the two golden angels on the covering of the Ark.
Questions: Why do the leaders donate the wagons and oxen, and then bring additional gifts? What is the significance of each gift?
Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:
- Breaking the 'Stained Glass' Ceiling -- This week's Torah portion, Naso, is a dramatic reminder of women's vulnerability. One of the most notorious ordeals regarding women is found within it. (ON Scripture - The Torah)
- Haftorah Naso -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in Judges 13:2-25, tells of the birth of Samson, the most famous of Nazarites. (My Jewish Learning)
- Rashi on Parshat Naso -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
- The Animated Parshat Naso -- "Inbal Freund-Novick, an Israeli activist for women's rights, tells the excruciatingly difficult tale of the accused wife in Parshat Naso. Hard to believe this stuff is in the Torah, but it's undeniably fascinating." (G-dcast)
- Nothing To Sneeze At -- "I remember Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach saying that we all have the power to bless each other, and we should, at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the only time most people extend a blessing is after hearing someone sneeze, and most of the time do not actually have the intent of bestowing a genuine blessing, of giving of themselves to another." (6th St. Synagogue)
- Routine and Passion -- "To survive and flourish as both a human and a spiritual being we need both the structure/routine and the content/passion, the priest and the prophet as it were." (IYYUN)
- Additional sources and related texts compiled on Wikipedia.