The portion of Nasso is the longest single portion in the Torah (the combined portions of Matot-Masei, when they are read together, is longer). It continues listing the responsibilities of the various families of Levites which began in Bamidbar. From there, it elaborates on several laws, including those pertaining to a husband who suspects his wife of infidelity, and the Nazirite who wishes to commit himself more fiercely to holiness. Finally, the portion ends with the contributions of the tribal leaders to the Tabernacle’s dedication.
The Responsibilities of the Gershon and Merari Families
Having detailed Kehat’s responsibilities in the previous portion, the Torah now outlines Gershon and Merari’s roles. Gershon’s descendants are to carry the curtains, sealskin, screens, hangings and cords which make up the outer structure of the Tabernacle. The Merari family is in charge of transporting the boards, bars, pillars, sockets and ropes of the Tabernacle’s frame. Both families are meant to work under the supervision of Ithamar, son of Aaron.
Moses counts the Levites aged 30 to 50, as asked. Kehat has 2,750 members, Gershon has 2,630 members and Merari has 3,200 members of service age. All told, there are 8,580 Levites between the ages of 30 and 50.
God continues by insisting on the purity of the newly-arranged camp, ordering lepers or those who become ritually contaminated for any reason to leave for the duration of the their impurity.
Next, the Torah prescribes the restitution required from one who steals. The thief is to return the stolen property, along with a fifth portion penalty. If the aggrieved party has no kin to whom the restitution can be paid, it goes to the priest, in addition to the offering that the guilty party must bring. God reminds us that certain portions of the offerings which the priest officiates are designated for that priest.
The Israel Bible points out the seemingly random direction the text is taking — from discussing the Israelite camp and the roles of the Levites, the Torah moves on to talk about theft, jealous husbands and Nazirites! From this we learn that the Children of Israel are expected to maintain a high level of holiness and morality, not just in their relationships with God, but also in their relationships with their fellow man, within their families and with themselves. For God to dwell among His people, they must demonstrate respect and sensitivity in all parts of their lives.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think a thief has to add a fifth to the restitution he pays for stealing? What can we learn from this?
Sotah: A Jealous Spouse
This passage deals with a very difficult subject: a husband who suspects his wife of infidelity. If there are no witnesses to back his claim, God Himself stands witness between them. The jealous husband must bring his wife to the priest, where she brings a special offering of barley flour without oil or frankincense. The priest takes sacred water and mixes in some earth from the floor of the Tabernacle. He stands the woman before God and uncovers her hair. She holds the meal-offering while he holds the bitter waters. The priest warns her that if she was unfaithful, God will cause her thigh to fall away and her belly swell upon the conclusion of the water ritual, and she must acknowledge. The priest records the curse on a scroll and dissolves the words into the bitter water and makes the woman drink. If she was unfaithful, the curse will be fulfilled, but if she was not, she will become pregnant instead.
Points to Ponder
If the woman might be innocent, why do you think she is made to go through this demeaning ordeal?
An individual, male or female, who wishes to take a vow of a Nazirite is forbidden to consume any grape products, to cut his or her hair, or to become ritually impure by exposure to a dead body, even that of a close relative. If he or she accidentally becomes contaminated, he or she must wait seven days, shave their head, and the following day, bring two bird offerings — a sin offering and an elevation offering. He or she must begin their Nazirite period again from that point.
When the abstinence period of the Nazirite ends, he or she must bring several offerings to the Tabernacle: a sheep as an elevation offering, a ewe as a sin offering, and a ram as a peace offering. He or she must also include a basket of unleavened loaves, unleavened wafers, accompanying meal offerings and libations. After the offerings are brought, the Nazirite is permitted to consume grape products again.
The Israel Bible asks the fundamental question: if the actions of the Nazirite are laudable (indeed, the text calls the Nazirite “holy” in verse 8), why must he or she bring a sin offering when the abstinence period is done? The answer brought down is that although it is important to set aside time for personal improvement, the goal is not remove one’s self from society entirely. While the abstinence of the Nazirite vows may strengthen the individual’s relationship with God, it is not inherently a positive trait.
God then sets out the formula for the priests to bless the people. When they recite the blessing, God will grant the people peace. This blessing is still recited in synagogues today, in Israel daily and around the world on holidays. The blessing has three parts, first, for prosperity and safety, then for God’s grace, and finally for peace. The Israel Bible cites the words of the Sages, who said, “God found no vessel to contain His blessings, other than peace.”
Points to Ponder
Why do you think these specific acts are forbidden to the Nazirite? What is their significance?
The Offerings of the Tribal Leaders
At this point, the Torah tells us the tribal princes bring six covered wagons and twelve oxen as a contribution to the Tabernacle. Moses divides them between the families of Gershon and Merari for their use in transporting the structure of the Tabernacle.
The portion ends with a lengthy list of the offerings brought to the Tabernacle for the dedication of the altar. The princes of each of the twelve tribes were moved to bring offerings for the occasion. Although each offering is identical, it is listed in detail for each prince.
The offerings each consisted of one silver bowl, one silver basin, each filled with fine flour mixed with oil; one gold ladle filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one sheep as an elevation offering;a he-goat as a sin offering; and two cattle, five rams, five he-goats and five sheep for a peace offering. This made a total of 12 bowls, 12 basins, 12 ladles, 36 bulls, 72 rams, 72 sheep, and 72 he-goats. Each prince brought his offering on a different day.
The Israel Bible says the princes were moved by their initial contribution of wagons and oxen to participate in the dedication of the altar. Following their lead, both the First and Second Temples were inaugurated with abundant sacrifices.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think each of the identical offerings was listed in such great detail?