April 20, 2024
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At first glance, Parshat Naso seems an odd amalgamation of topics. First, we have the conclusion of the census of the Levite families and the enumeration of their duties. Next is a list of those individuals who must be excluded from the various tribal encampments: the camp of the Shechina, where the divine presence dwells in the Mishkan; the Levite camp; and the Israelite camp.

The Torah then relates what occurs when property is misappropriated from a convert who passed away, for only a convert without children would be a Jew lacking any heir. In such a situation the property passes to the kohen. Thereafter, we are told of the gifts owing to the kohanim. This is followed immediately by the laws concerning the sotah, the nazir and the priestly blessing.

The end of the parsha relates that the tribal princes donated carts for transporting the Mishkan and their identical donations for the Mishkan’s dedication. It concludes with Hashem speaking to Moshe from within the Mishkan. So what binds all these topics together? The answer is boundaries.

If the sotah, the accused wife, was guilty, it was by acting inappropriately and going beyond the bounds of marriage, propriety and morality. Concerning an innocent woman, it is the husband who went beyond the bounds by his jealousy. The nazir, on the other hand, is one who fears going beyond bounds.

The nazir is a creature of sensuality who knows not moderation. The nazir, however, wishes to take remedial or preventive action. Fearing that the route that such a person might take would be extreme, the Torah provided him with a procedure. Yet that very procedure, the procedure of nezirut, is in and of itself an act of overcompensation, albeit a permitted one. Although permitted, it carries with it an aspect of guilt. It is for this reason that when the period of nezirut ends, a korban chatat must be brought. Long hair can be a sign of mourning or sensuality. It represents opposite extremes and is thus emblematic of the nazir’s struggle and vacillation between extremes. On completion of his period of nezirut, the nazir is shaved similar to a Levite at dedication. Now the former nazir will, or should, set an example to others as to staying in the bounds.

One of the Levitical roles is keeping people in bounds. Metaphorically, they accomplish this in their role as teachers of Torah. Literally they accomplish this in their role as guardians preventing entry into certain sacred precincts. This is why the parsha begins with a recitation of the Levites’ responsibilities and numbers. The portion then mentions limitations, those people who must be excluded from certain areas of the camp.

The Gamara in Arachin 16a connects the affliction of tzara’at to seven different sins: slander, the shedding of blood, a vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery and envy. Most often this affliction is associated with talebearing, a sin that hurts many and knows no bounds. Such a person is therefore expelled from all the camps.

The zav is excluded from the Levite camp. The zav’s sin was not beyond all bounds but was likely of a private and personal nature, probably related to a sexual trespass. He suffers an exclusion but not one so extreme. The tumah of death may be the result of performing a mitzvah and hence the person can enter all but the most holy, for death cannot be associated with that area.

It may first appear that the parsha is teaching that we must always remain within bounds. To refute this notion, elements of the parsha inform us that at times we have an obligation to go beyond the bounds. Yes, the tribal princes stayed within bounds with their decision to present identical gifts of a silver bowl, a silver basin filled with flour and oil, a gold ladle filled with incense and identical korbanot. The princes, however, also displayed a positive aspect of breaking boundaries. They did so by giving carts to the Mishkan. These carts were not among the necessary elements of the Mishkan. They were not mandated by Hashem. They are a manifestation of going beyond the letter of the law in the service of Hashem.

Similarly, the gentile who elects to throw his lot in with the Jewish people and convert is also going beyond what is required of him. This is why when there is no one to inherit from him the property passes to a kohen. Just as the convert has displayed an overflowing love and desire for Hashem, so must a kohen display a similar love for the Jewish people. The Gamara in Sota 39a teaches that the priestly blessing must be given with love. Hashem in turn shows his love of the kohanim by ensuring, through gifts, that they are supported despite being of the landless tribe.

It is love that brings the parsha to a close. The parsha ends by telling us that Hashem would speak to Moshe from the Mishkan. What greater manifestation of love can there be than to have Hashem speak to us directly? How fortunate we were to have the Mishkan and then the Beit Hamikdash where we could so explicitly experience the Shechina, the divine presence. May we merit to quickly, speedily and soon experience such a blessing once again.


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelor of Arts in religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a board member and officer of several Orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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