Archive for the '4.02 Naso' Category

The Other Foot: Shimshon and #metoo

In Naso, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the laws of becoming a Nazir. The Nazir is someone who  takes a vow to “consecrated” or “separated” themselves. This vow means that they need to abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes. It also means that they are going to refrain from cutting their hair on one’s head. The final aspect of this vow is that they cannot become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members.

It is not at all surprising that the haftarah coupled with this Torah portion is the origin story of Shimshon, the most famous Nazir in the Bible. Shimshon is not a normal Nazir in that he has superhuman strength. He also not a particularly good Nazir in that he appears to break his vows, by touching a dead body (Judges 14:8–9) and drinking wine (he holds a “drinking party”, in Judges 14:10). Lucas Cranach d. Ä. - Samson's Fight with the Lion - WGA05717.jpg

What is not covered in the origin story is the tragic end of his life. His immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats came from his hair. Shimshon was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who used the secret of the origin of his strength against him. She ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies.

Delilah’s betrayal of Shimshon is an interesting foil for us today. As a nation we are reflecting on bringing sexual misconduct to light. The #metoo movement has surfaced the many situations in which men have used their power to take the hidden strength from women. For their pleasure men have compromised women and as a society we have been complicit in not making room for their voice. How do we all understand the power we have and the power we might take? As a man I read the Haftarah this week with an eye to asking myself to put the this shoe on the other foot.



Raise Your Hands: A Sure Blessing

Over the holiday we did the Priestly blessing in synagogue that Adina and I give our children. This blessing that we say every Shabbat and Holiday at home comes from Naso, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying: On this wise you shall bless the children of Israel; you shall say to them: The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace. ( Numbers 6:22-26)

While I usually focus on the intimacy of touching my children while giving them a blessing, this week at synagogue I got to thinking about the nature of  the priests having their arms held up to bless us.

Immediately my head flashed to the iconic Sure Deodorant Raise Your Hand commercials from the 198o’s.

They were encouraging people to buy their project so they could raise their arms and be sure that they would be showing signs of perspiration. But with the image of the Statue of Liberty mixed into the commercial the idea of certitude and conviction got mixed into the virtue of buying their product.  Be that from a priest to the nation or from a parent to a child, what are we sure about when we give someone a blessing ?

We are clearly not sure if God’s face will shine upon them. We have no idea if God will be gracious or lift up God’s face to them. And we have no idea if they will live a life of  peace. Within today’s complexity we cannot even say with surety if there is a God. All we can say is that we are sure that we want to communicate blessing. When it comes to my community and my children I desperately want to share any blessing I have to give.  About that I am sure.

Beyond Facetime: The Blessing of Presence

I have been away for work a lot over the last few weeks. Being away reminds me how much I love my family. Another moment that this comes into focus is every week when Adina and I get to bless our children with the Priestly Blessing. This blessing that we say on Friday night comes from Naso, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying: On this wise you shall bless the children of Israel; you shall say to them: The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace. ( Numbers 6:22-26)

With my absence on my mind I have been thinking about how the essence of this blessing is that the children of Israel will get face time with God ( see use of the word Panav). While I am sure my children miss me while I am gone, I am not sure how much they realize how much I  miss them. While I love Facetiming with them, it does not cut it. What I need is being physically with them. Our virtual connection makes us numb to need for being face to face with the people we love. Being in the presence of my family is the best present. That is a blessing. Do we ever pause to think that is God who really wants to be brought into that space?

A Language for Jealosy: Rethinking Sotah

In Nasso, this week’s Torah portion we read about the case of the Sotah. In the case in which a husband was suspicious of his wife’s fidelity the Torah outlines a process for determining her guilt. Evidently asking her was not a possibility.  If she was unfaithful the potion would do her in, and the other possibility was that she was innocent and he was just jealous and insecure . There we read:

 or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled; then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is a meal-offering of jealousy, a meal-offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance. ( Numbers 5:14-15 )

While it clearly speaks to a patriarchal society, it also speaks to a society in which men and women do not know how to communicate. It seems so strange with all of these magic potions, but is it so different from our society?

It is hard to read this part of the Torah the same way after the events of the recent shootings in Isla Vista. A young man sat in his car and outlined his jealousy toward the women in his life and his plans to kill them. Unable to communicate in normal ways he put this video on YouTube and actually went through with the heinous crimes. I think we need to look in the mirror and realize that while killing is not normal, the inability for people to communicate might be the new normal.

How did we get here?  Clearly the use and abuse of technology, pornography, and social media has played a role, but how do we undo these things? What do we need to do get us out of this problem? We need to change our very language and how we talk about each other. The next generation needs us to do some hard work on this. We need to teach our sons and daughters how to see each other as people to communicate with and to be intimate with rather than simply seeing each other a sexual objects to own and use. We need a language to communicate jealousy.

Holy Scut Work

In Naso, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that the children of Gershon were assigned to carry the curtains and tapestries of the Tabernacle. The children of Merrari were assigned to carry the beams, poles, and sockets that comprise the walls. (Numbers 4: 21- 34)Why does the Torah go into detail regarding the minutia of all of the schlepping?  To get a job done everyone needs to plays a role even if not glamorous. What do we see as the goal of our project? What is the not-so-glamorous part of our work? While few enjoy doing the schlepping, if we are truly committed to the mission, it does not feel like meaningless scut work.

A story is told of Reb Aryeh Levin, the Prison Chaplain of Pre-State Jerusalem, getting up early each morning for prayer. The story goes:

On his way to the synagogue, he made it a point to greet everyone he met on the street; and he was especially careful to wish a good morning to the street-cleaners, who also rose early to work. Once he told me why he did this: ‘I have affection for the street-cleaners. Just look: When everyone is still asleep, they take the trouble to come and clean the streets of Jerusalem, so as to support themselves by their own honest labor. Their work is not respected; they are not esteemed for it; their salary is niggardly. And still they take their pains to do their task faithfully.’” (Raz, A Tzaddik in Our Time 101)

We all have what to learn from the children of Gershon and Merrari. Just because we schlep things, that does not make us schleppers. If we commit ourselves to a holy mission, we become truly holy.

Hide and Seek

I am reminded this week of one of my favorite Hassidic stories.  The story goes that a Rebbe is walking and sees a little boy standing by a wall crying. The Rebbe asks the boy why he is crying. The boy replies that he was playing Hide and Seek with his friends and he thinks that his friends forgot about him. At this point the Rebbe starts crying and the boys asks him why the Rebbe is crying. The Rebbe responds, ” Now I understand how God feels “.

In Naso, this week’s Torah portion, we read the Priestly Blessing.  It goes,

The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace.  ( Numbers 6:24-26)

In a very simplistic read, the blessing is suggesting that we will get God’s attention. Do we want God’s attention today? What would it mean for us to take a moment away from all of the distractions of all of our media to return to the game of Hide and Seek? Can we imagine returning with a child’s perspective? What would it take for us to return to looking for God in this world?  That would be a blessing.

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