For the week ending 18 May 2013 / 8 Sivan 5773

Parshat Naso

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah assigns the exact Mishkan-related tasks to be performed by the families of Gershon, Kehat, and Merari, the sons of Levi. A census reveals that over 8,000 men are ready for such service. All those ritually impure are to be sent out of the encampments. If a person, after having sworn in court to the contrary, confesses that he wrongfully retained his neighbor’s property, he has to pay an additional fifth of the base-price of the object and bring a guilt offering as atonement. If the claimant has already passed away without heirs, the payments are made to a kohen. In certain circumstances, a husband who suspects that his wife had been unfaithful brings her to the Temple. A kohen prepares a drink of water mixed with dust from the Temple floor and a special ink that was used for inscribing G-d’s Name on a piece of parchment. If she is innocent, the potion does not harm her; rather it brings a blessing of children. If she is guilty, she suffers a supernatural death. A nazir is one who vows to dedicate himself to G-d for a specific period of time. He must abstain from all grape products, grow his hair and avoid contact with corpses. At the end of this period he shaves his head and brings special offerings. The kohanim are commanded to bless the people. The Mishkan is completed and dedicated on the first day of Nisan in the second year after the Exodus. The prince of each tribe makes a communal gift to help transport the Mishkan, as well as donating identical individual gifts of gold, silver, animal and meal offerings.


All In The Family

“Any man whose wife shall go astray...” (5:12)

A hundred years ago in a brilliant Jewish mind, an exciting idea was born. It went something like this: Man is separated from his neighbor by a huge division, an unbridgeable gulf called individual property. If I own something, it means you can’t have it. In a sense, my owning something ‘steals’ it from you. Property is theft. If we could make a society in which everyone owned everything, then no one would be jealous of anyone else. What we need to do is to redeem capital from the hands of the ruling elite and return it to the people.

The Communist ideal spawned several social engineering experiments. The most notable of these was the collective farm. All property was owned by the collective. Everyone ate in a communal dining room. Every member of the collective gave what he could and only took what he needed.

Probably the most famous and successful application of the commune concept was the kibbutz movement in Israel. However, there were other countries where the idea also took root. It must have seemed at the time like a Utopian dream.

What happened to the dream? The last vestiges of the collective farm have either become Capitalist enterprises or are moribund. Why did such a noble-sounding idea fail?

One inevitable aspect of collective living was a re-evaluation of the role of the family. Rather than sleeping under the same roof as their parents, children now slept in dormitories. One wonders who would answer a small child who might wake in the middle of the night and cry, “Mommy! I want a glass of water!” How successful a mother-substitute could a dormitory supervisor be?

There’s something very strange about this week’s Torah portion.

Right in the middle of the description of the organization of the Machane, the Jewish encampment, there is a seemingly illogical interruption in which the Torah presents, amongst other mitzvot, the mitzvah of the Sota. The Sota is a wife whose behavior has provoked her husband to suspect her of infidelity. The Torah prescribes a miraculous process by which, if proved innocent, will restore her completely to her husband’s trust. But what does the Sota have to do with the Jewish encampment?

The Machane was the paradigm of the future social structure of the Jewish People. Not only did it mandate the placement of each individual tribe, but the Machane represented Jewish Society as it is was to be lived throughout the generations. The Torah puts the mitzvah of Sota in the middle of the description of the Machane to teach us that the harmony of society at large is predicated on the united and happy family.

The family is the basic building block of society. When you tamper with its delicate balance, when you try and ‘engineer’ it to conform to man-made concepts of Utopian life, inevitably those experiments will be short-lived and eventually founder.

  • Sources: Ramban; Rabbi Moshe Eismann, as heard from Rabbi Moshe Zauderer

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