Parsha: Naso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89)
The Principle of Separation
Naso נָשֹׂא (“Lift/Carry/Shlep!”) Numbers 4:21 – 7:89 Rabbi Glenn
The Torah portion for this Shabbat is called Naso (נָשֹׂא), from the verb meaning “to lift, to take or to carry (can have the connotation also of weights in scales)”. It spans Numbers chapters four through seven. Moses is asked to conduct a census of the 30-50 year-old men in the Levitical families of Gershon and Merari, along with the Kohathites to perform service in the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting. This was an elite group of men whose sole responsibility was the transporting, assembling and disassembling of the Tent of Meeting. Their job was to shlep – but it was sanctified shlepping! This parasha is all about making distinctions between the holy and the profane.
Chapter five concerns ritual defilement. Anyone with leprosy or any bodily discharge or who had been in physical contact with a dead body was to be sent outside the camp until they were once again clean. God was in the midst of the camp of Israel, and He is holy, so we were to be holy. Uncleanness had to be separated out. Separation is, without question, the overriding theme of this week’s Torah portion.
The same chapter includes laws governing personal and financial restitution where fraud has been committed, and confession of such sins before God. If you cheated anyone, you were not only to confess it, but make complete repayment, plus an additional one-fifth of the total amount. It made me think of the over-and-above repentance of Zacchaeus the despised tax-collector, who was so moved by Yeshua’s show of mercy that he declared, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).
This chapter also describes the priestly test for a woman accused of having committed adultery, in what is, as far as I can tell, the only mention of “holy water” (מַיִם קְדוֹשִׁים) in the Scriptures. If having to drink bitter water containing the ink of a curse written on a scroll along with dirt from the floor of the Tabernacle seems harsh, bear in mind the gravity of such an accusation. Throughout history, both Judaism and Christianity have regarded adultery as among the most serious of offenses, and until the past century or so always carried severe consequences. Sadly, the effect of a century of secularization, coupled with our enshrining of immorality in movies and on television, has been to desensitize us. We have become jaded, so that, rather than be shocked and horrified by it, we treat adultery as little more than an everyday, if unfortunate, reality. Adultery, however, was regarded as so serious an offense, that Yeshua declared it to be the only justifiable basis for divorce. What we can appreciate about this seemingly strange type of trial is that the matter is taken out of the hands of a jealous husband, and reserved for God to judge. Furthermore, a public trial such as this served not only to establish guilt or innocence, but also acted as a deterrent. Our sinful nature is kept in check through the threat of real and dire consequences for sinful actions.
There was also another type of separation – the separation of those who took a Nazirite vow. Nazirite comes from the word naziyr (נָזִר) meaning consecrated, either in a religious or ceremonial sense, or marked out as consecrated to high office – it may also be translated crown or diadem. For the duration of a Nazirite vow (no less than 30 days but potentially much longer) no wine or strong drink was permitted; no grape juice, grapes or even raisins – everything produced by the vine was prohibited. Scholars suggest it may have been a caution against drunkenness during the vow, or else a renunciation of Canaanite [agri-] culture and a recalling of having relied upon God in the wilderness. The Nazirite was also required to let his hair grow until the completion of the vow, at which time it would be cut and then burned on the altar. After the completion of the vow he would again be permitted to enjoy the fruit of the vine.
We also find in this parasha the Aaronic benediction – the marvelous blessing God gave Aaron and his descendants, the priests, to pronounce over the sons of Israel which to this day is chanted in synagogues around the world!
Parasha Nasso concludes with a description of Moses entering the Tent of Meeting – alone – and God speaking with him directly from between the cherubim atop the Ark Covering (Mercy Seat) of the Ark of the Testimony. This, perhaps, is the most significant of separations, for it was Moses who, again and again, had to intercede before God to turn His righteous wrath away from our people on account of our repeated transgressions. Yet how is it today that Jewish people are so quick to dismiss the mediation of Yeshua as Messiah, by saying, “We don’t need a middle-man!”? Really? We have always needed a middle-man. It illustrates our people’s stunning biblical and historical illiteracy.
The principle of separation – holiness, is still very much in effect. In fact, it is elevated in the New Covenant. Beyond outward compliance, your very heart is under examination. As a follower of Messiah Yeshua you are called upon to separate yourself from anything that might hinder your walk with Him. Hear Rabbi Paul’s words: …what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
May God enable all of us to live lives that are properly set apart to Him.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Naso נָשֹׂא. Other transliterations: Naso or Nasso