For the week ending 30 May 2020 / 7 Sivan 5780

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, but, rather, it brings her 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 Nissan 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


The Problem of Slippers

“The Children of Yisrael will encamp, each person by his banner, according to the insignia of their fathers’ household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting they will encamp.” (2:1)

Ryan Ramsey was the captain of the nuclear submarine HMS Turbulent between 2008 and 2011 and once spent 286 days at sea without seeing the sky. He shared an 84 meter steel tube with 130 people. In the middle of the total lock-down, the BBC screened an interesting interview with him. Two of his tips resonated with me. The first was to be careful to attend to one’s personal appearance. It’s all too easy in a time of lock-down to let one’s personal grooming slip, which can lead to a general decline. For an observant Jew this translates as not davening in your slippers. Man is created b’tzelem Elokim, and he preserves that tzelem by preserving tzurat ha’adam.

The other tip he had was to maintain a routine. Shigra – or routine – is a double-edged blade. One of the great Rabbis of a previous generation (please let me know who it was), when visiting his son in his Yeshiva, would first of all go and check his son’s bedroom rather than go and see how his son was learning in the Beit Midrash (study hall).

Personal order is both a barometer and a cause of application and organization. It also accelerates time. The monotony of living in a submarine or locked up at home is reduced by routine – hours become links between set activities – hours become days. Days become months. It’s exactly that same difficulty we find when we try to remember a specific day three years ago that helps us deal with monotony. It’s a G‑d-given amnesia that helps the mind deal with boredom. I have no problem whatsoever remembering the day of my wedding, or my son’s first haircut, but try me on a specific day two months ago!

A slave’s life is very monotonous, but it’s also very regular. In one sense, it’s very relaxing. You just keep doing the same thing every day without thinking. When the Jewish People left Egypt and experienced the most memorable event of any life time – the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai – they were challenged by an event that could easily destabilize them. And a few million people wandering around an uncharted desert after the comfort and stability of the fleshpots of Egypt could have been a disaster waiting to happen.

“The Children of Yisrael shall encamp, each man by his banner according to the insignia of their fathers’ household, at a distance surrounding the Tent of Meeting shall they encamp.” (2:1)

This week’s Torah portion goes into great detail about the precise location and the job of each one of the priestly tribes. There is a hint here that order and routine are fundamentals of both sanity and the ability to serve our Creator appropriately — and that starts with not wearing slippers for davening.

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