Parasha Naso, if you have begun your study already you may have noticed, is a very long one. In fact, it is the longest one of the year. 176 verses. 176 is also the number of pages in the longest tractate of the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Basra. Parasha Naso is also the subject of a large number of midrashim and is dealt with at great length in the Zohar. Obviously, there are things contained in this weeks parasha that our people have found very valuable through the centuries. In this weeks parasha are the nazarite vow, the test for the unfaithful wife, the dedication of the Mishkan, the importance of the purity of the camp and the ‘Aaronic Blessing’. It is the last thing we will talk about this week.
We are all very familiar with the blessing, at Beit haKadosh we say it at the conclusion of services every week and we use it when we bless our children on Erev Shabbat.
“The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you,
The Lord turn His face toward you and grant you Shalom”
The purpose of the blessing is found in the next verse (6:27). ‘so they will put My Name on the Israelite and I will bless them’. What does it mean when it says that G-d will put His Name on them?
We know that in biblical times, names had a lot more significance that they do in modern western culture. The name was representative of the individual to whom it belonged, it encompassed his essential nature or it made some kind of important statement. G-d’s name, YHVH, does the same for Him, it encompasses His essential nature, it defines His nature and character. That is why the Name is so sacred and incomprehensible, just as G-d Himself is beyond our comprehension. (And while as Nazarenes we have been resurrecting it’s use, we must still treat it with the utmost reverence and, in my opinion, it’s uses should be limited to specifically sanctified times, such as the blessings recited on Shabbat. But that’s just my opinion and not specifically related to our subject.) When the Name is used, we are invoking the owner of that Name, His essence and authority. Therefore when G-d says that He will place His Name on the children of Israel, when they (and we) receive His name, they place themselves under His authority and responsibility. We can derive three points from this implication.
First is that G-d himself took authority over them and responsibility for them. When we enter into covenant relationship with G-d, we accept His authority over us as the Greater Party in the covenant agreement, but we also acknowledge that He now has responsibility for us. It is much like a parent/child relationship. Parents are the authorities over their children (they set rules and boundaries to bring them to maturity, which is the purpose of Torah for us) and they also have the responsibility for their care and protection.
Second, when G-d places His name on us, He desires that His character becomes part of us. We have His label and the ‘contents’ of our lives on which that label is placed should accurately reflect that label. That is the purpose of the spirit, to manifest His character in us from the inside. G-d desires that we be accurate representatives of His Name.
Finally, Israel is to respond to G-d by walking under his authority and according to His character. When we receive his Name we agree to place ourselves under His authority, to do our duty as people in His dominion. And we do not just ‘obey’ the externals for their own sake but we do so because we have internalized the character that goes with the label. We reflect the nature and character of the G-d under whose Name we have come. When we recite that blessing, and desire all the things in it, that is what we are really aspiring to.
The “Aaronic” or “priestly” blessing, one of the most well known passages from the Torah is contained in parasha Nasso.
“May YHVH bless you and safeguard you. May YHVH illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious for you. May YHVH lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.” Bamidbar (Num) 6:24-26
So often we recite words like these or the Sh’ma or other parts of our liturgy without reflecting on what they really mean. The above words are recited at the end of our services, on erev shabbat over our children, on holy days and other special occasions. What is it that we are really saying or desiring when we do so?
Space will not allow a word by word exposition of these verses but I do want to look at the basic concept involved here, and that is G-d’s blessing, or at least desiring G-d’s blessing. What does it mean to bless.
“Barach”, which means ‘bless’, and it’s various forms comes from a common root which means ‘to bend the knee’ or ‘to kneel’, to bow before out of respect. ‘Berek’ or ‘knee’ comes from this root and demonstrates it’s origin. If one puts it in the context of an oriental king, one would ‘bless’ the king by bowing or kneeling before him, giving him the honor his position demands. When we bless G-d, we are doing the same thing. We are bowing before Him and showing Him the honor and respect He deserves as the King of the Universe. That is something to keep in mind as we pray.
The Aaronic blessing is something different however. We are asking G-d to bless us. It would be as if the peasant went into the throne room of the king and had the audacity to ask the king to kneel before him! And then the king complied with the request! When we seek G-d’s blessing not only are we asking Him to become our servant, to do good things for us, but we are asking Him to show us honor and respect. The Creator, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. We are asking something extraordinary and we need to treat it that way. It should not be an expectation or a demand. When we seek G-d’s blessing, we need to make sure we are worthy of receiving it. I am sure that is one of the reasons the priests were responsible for requesting it, they were in a constant state of holiness and purity and were therefore worthy of receiving it for the people.
The whole idea of us blessing G-d and then He blessing us brings to mind the words of Yahushua to His Talmidim. He taught them and spent time with them, He was continually blessing them and He called them His friends. They were not His servants, to Him they were not the dirty peasant in the throne room but honored friends whom He was happy to bless. Our relationship with G-d should be this way. We are honored friends, not equal in position but yet not lowly servants. We are friends of the King whom we serve faithfully and who, in turn, serves us. It is this kind of close friendship of mutual service that we were created for. So next time you hear a blessing, think of in which direction it is going and what the relationship that makes it possible means.
This week there is an odd procedure outlined to establish the guilt or innocence of a woman suspected of adultery. If a husband questions his wife’s fidelity he can take her to the tabernacle and perform this ceremony. She is forced to drink a solution of dirt and water while making an offering. The Torah tells us that if she is guilty, her thigh will collapse and her stomach distend and she will become a curse and an oath amidst the people. According to the Mishna, Sotah 20a, she would die a grotesque death. If she was innocent, it would have no effect.
The central reason for this is to reestablish trust between husband and wife. If that trust is broken because there is a suspicion of infidelity it needs to be restored if there is no basis to it. We all know this is very difficult. Even if a court had ruled there was no evidence for the charge, the husband may still be suspicious and the trust will remain broken. However, if G-d Himself bears witness, through this ordeal, then there is no reason to continue to be wary and the trust will be reestablished, perhaps stronger than ever (once the woman forgives him for doubting her!).
There is another very crucial element in this ordeal. It may remind one of the Salem witch trial and other such events. “Throw the woman in the river, if she floats, she’s a witch, if she sinks, she wasn’t.....” We know that is an unfortunate extension of trial by ordeal and there are many other examples in history. But it neglects an important truth, however distorted it many have become since Moshe received this teaching. The spiritual and the physical are very closely intertwined.
In this ordeal, the woman drinks some muddy water, made so by the dust on the floor of the tabernacle. Now if I were going to put dirt in a glass and drink it, that’s one of the places I would take it from. It’s very unlikely to be contaminated with ‘stuff’ likely to make one sick, the cleanest dirt around. But it is not the dirt that made one sick, it was the guilt. The question that then comes up is why doesn’t G-d just punish the woman after the event-make her sick until she confesses or dies. The answer should be obvious. The relationship would never be restored if she’s innocent and if guilty, the direct connection between the sin and the sickness would not be established. This is important because there is a direct link between spiritual and moral activity and physical reality. The tzaria affliction is another example of this. The problem we have today is that since not all sickness is a result of sin we do not have an event or a marker to tell us when it is. That is an important corrective measure we are missing in our lives. We are left with study, prayer and self examination to determine whether our lives are going in the right direction. Fortunately, we have a gracious and loving G-d Who desires a relationship even with our disadvantage.
This week’s parasha contains the rules and regulations surrounding the nazarite. They are to stay away from grape products and dead bodies and they are not to cut the hair on their head. They are rather simple rules. The big question is why anyone would want to take such a vow. The torah does not tell us why this would be necessary or what benefit is derived from living such a lifestyle. Perhaps if we look into the meaning of the word and how it is used throughout the scriptures, we will have an idea what it means to be a nazarite.
Nazir is not a common word in the Bible, in fact half it’s uses are found in our parasha. The other times it appears are rather interesting however. It first shows up in Exodus where the crown of the Kohen HaGadol, the one that says ‘holiness to YHVH’, is nazir. (Ex 29:6, 39:30 and Lev 8:9) The anointing oil on the head of the Kohen is nazir. (Lev 21:12) Nazir also refers to separation. Israel is to be separate (nazir) from their uncleanness so they do not defile the Mishkan. (Lev 15:31) Aaron and his sons are to separate (nazir) themselves from the holy things of Israel. (Lev 22:2) From these we get the idea that nazir is to be separated from any uncleanness in order to be in the intimate presence of God in the Mishkan. It is also the label of that separation which is on the head.
There is also another usage of nazir and we had a hint of with the high priest's headwear. It is used to describe the crown of a king or of some special privilege. Saul’s crown is nazir (II Sam 1:10) as is Joash’s (II Kings 11:12) The crown (nazir) is also symbolic of keeping the covenant (Ps 132:18 and Jer 7:29). Now our task is to bring all these things together. What do the high priest, the king and separation have in common and how can we apply it to the nazarite?
The Kohen was in tune with the Ruach, he was in the intimate presence of YHVH. We could call him a mystic; one who regularly experiences the presence of the divine. The king, when ruling properly, did so with wisdom. Solomon asked for wisdom, not knowledge, to help him rule because wisdom comes from God, knowledge has it’s source in man. The king was a man of practicality, he had to apply his wisdom in real world situations. Both men were separated from their brethren for a purpose, both adhered to the covenant. But what does this have to do with the average Israelite who was not of the tribe of Judah or Levi?
Now let’s look at the ancient meaning of the word. Nazir is composed of a nun-a seed or something continuing or perpetuated, a zayin-a sickle, to cut or harvest and a resh-the head of a man, top or first. Put all this together and you have something like ‘perpetually cutting off the head’. Now that seems like a strange statement until we explore it a little more. The head is the seat of the brain, the mind, knowledge. The king and the priest did not use this as their primary faculty, they used the ruach, the breath, which connected them with YHVH. They both covered their heads with something, symbolic perhaps of constraining the mind and it’s knowledge so it did not have the preeminent place it does in our culture.
The nazarite vow provided every Israelite the opportunity to be separated for special spiritual work and experience. Like the high priest, he kept himself from corpses and wine (when the priest went into the presence of God). Like a king he could exercise great wisdom and leadership abilities like Samuel or Sampson. His crown or mark was his hair. Revelation tells us that we are now kings and priests (1:6, 5:10). The nazarite shows us that intimacy with YHVH and spiritual power, while not common, are available to anyone regardless of lineage. We must only keep ourselves from the things of death, put the mind and it’s knowledge in it’s proper place and learn to use the ruach, allowing our breath to lead the way.
There is a very unique ceremony in this week’s parasha, one usually associated with things like witch hunts and the like. It is the ceremony for determining whether a woman has been running around on her husband. The ceremony in Bamidbar six basically consists of the woman taking an oath, the priest making a drink of water, dirt, and ink and having her drink it. If she is guilty, she will become sick-her thigh will rot and her belly distend. If she is not guilty then nothing will happen. Reminds you of when they threw witches in the river with rocks around their ankles. If they came up, they were witches, if they didn’t...they weren’t.....
The question is, how did it work? First, it appears from the text that the husband needed to have some evidence for his suspicion. There had to be a good reason or reasons to put his wife through this. The second element was the drink itself. In an earthenware vessel, a clay pot, was poured sacred water. To this was added some dirt from the floor of the Mishkan. Before you think this was the cause remember that the floor of the Mishkan was probably the cleanest dirt floor in the world. Nothing unclean could be on it so the dirt in the vessel was as clean as dirt can be. For any kid that ever ate mud pies, dirt is not something that is going to make you deathly sick. The only other element of the drink was a little dried ink from the scroll with the curses on it. There was nothing in the drink itself that would cause severe illness.
The third part of the ceremony was the offering which was simply barley flour she offered at the conclusion of the ceremony. The most important part was the oath. Why? Was it because there was some magical formula between the words and the components of the drink that caused the proper effect? Nah. Was it because YHVH in heaven heard it and knew whether she was guilty or not and acted upon the oath accordingly? Nah. It was because if she believed she was innocent she would not get sick and if she was guilty it would make her sick. It was all upon her. The power of our mind to influence the heath of the body, and the body to affect the mind is unquestioned. That is why many studies have shown that a sugar pill, if the patient believes it will have a certain effect, often does. This is why stress, which is a mental function, has such a detrimental effect on the body. The opposite is true with meditation which relaxes and heals the body through mental work.
It is also the cultural framework that influences it. If the culture does not teach adultery is wrong or that words mean nothing, no amount of magic by the priest will have any affect on the woman just as a psychopath can often pass a lie detector test because in his realm of reality, he is telling the truth. Our culture tells us all kinds of things about health and disease, some of which are true and some of which are myth. Some parent keep their kids in a sterile environment to keep them from getting sick and pump them full of antibiotics every time they sniffle. Physically, this is the worst thing to do because the child never builds up a proper natural immunity and becomes resistant to antibiotics. Psychologically, it raises the child's stress level because they become ‘germaphobic’ and that higher stress stays with them throughout their lives and weakens their immune system, among other things. This is just one example. The fact is, a clear conscience and a relaxed and cared for mind and body are the best defense against disease there is.