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Parashat Nasso - 5777

Dear friends,

This week's Parasha, the second in the Book of Numbers, continues the process of census taking. Last week the census was taken of all the tribes. In this Parasha, Moses is instructed to count the families of the Gershonites and Merarites, and assign them their respective tasks in the setting up and dismantling, as well as the carrying, of the Tabernacle.

The word used for 'count' is 'Naso', which literally means 'lift up' or 'raise. Each person is uplifted by being assigned a task and, in this way, is being involved in the community.

The Hebrew word for a chief, or president, is 'Nasi' - the same root as 'Naso' - because of the honorable position the chief or president holds, and of the heavy responsibility that the title entails and the bearer must carry.

This Parsha begins with the listing of the Levite families and ends with the listing of the special offering that the chief (Nasi) of each tribe brought to the Tabernacle on the day of its dedication.

Naso is the longest Parasha, extending to 176 verses. It is divided into exactly two halves. The first 88 verses deal with the census, isolating from the camp lepers and other unclean individuals, the restitution, offering and confession to be made by one who wronged another human being, the role of the Priest in helping the jealous husband, and the laws of the Nazirite - one who adopts a lifestyle denying himself ordinary pleasures.

The second half describes the offering that the Nasi (chief) of each tribe brought to the Tabernacle. Separating the first and second halves are those magical verses containing the Priestly Blessing. Aaron and his descendants the priests are instructed to use these words when blessing the people:

"May G-d bless you and protect you."
"May G-d deal kindly with you and be gracious to you."
"May G-d bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)

These are the words that conclude the silent prayer recited by the Hazzan. And these are the words that parents use every Shabbat to bless their sons and daughters.

The reason that this Parasha is so long is that the second half of the reading, describing each offering made by the head of each tribe (6 verses per tribe), is repeated. twelve times. There are many commentaries as to the need for repeating the offering of each chief on each of the twelve days, even though it was identical to the one brought by the chief the day before. For example:

The commentary I like best is this one. In our world today, at major fundraising events and in the word of philanthropy when people announce gifts, there is a tendency to want to do better than the one before. Each donor wants to be recognized for doing better. The Torah lists each identical gift to show that the head of each tribe did not want to do any more or less than the others. It was a sign of unity and an opportunity for all twelve tribes to begin to feel like one people, with the Tabernacle and G-d present among them.

The message for us from Naso is to come forward and be counted. Enjoy G-d's blessings through the Priestly Blessing and be happy to share those blessings with your community and others at your own initiative.

Shabbat Shalom,