This week I read Torah for the first time with an egalitarian Orthodox minyan at Pardes. While enjoying a festive breakfast later that morning, my friends turned to me and asked, “So, how did it feel? What was that like? What’s next?” Truth be told, there’s something almost anti-climatic about the experience because it felt natural reading Torah in a community that is home. But I think what I found most profound in those moments of reading Parshat Naso this past Monday was my proximity to the Torah scroll itself.
That may sound funny considering the fact that I spend most of my days studying Torah. But there is something incredibly powerful about reading and following along in the sacred scroll itself. As I read, I felt like I was able to tap into the spiritual energy of the words themselves. Like I was making a personal connection to each letter, each sound.
As I sit here studying the parsha I am revisited by this deep connection to its first words. The parsha opens with a census as follows:
|כא וַיְדַבֵּר ה’, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר
||21 And the LORD spoke to Moses saying:
|כב נָשֹׂא, אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי גֵרְשׁוֹן–גַּם-הֵם: לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם
||22 ‘Take the sum of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ houses, by their families;
|כג מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, עַד בֶּן-חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה–תִּפְקֹד אוֹתָם: כָּל-הַבָּא לִצְבֹא צָבָא, לַעֲבֹד עֲבֹדָה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד
||23 from thirty years old and upward until fifty years old you shall number them: all who are subject to service in the performance for the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 4:21-23)
The translation of the word נָשֹׂא (which is the name of our parsha) seems to allude to some form of counting. However, this same verb is used later in the parsha, in the famous priestly blessings, which many congregations still invoke today.
In this context, the word יִשָּׂא which stems from the same Hebrew root as נָשֹׂא is translated as “lift up”. Clearly, elevating something and counting are entirely different actions. They are not synonymous. So why are these linguistically-related words translated so differently? In their respective contexts, these translations seem appropriate. But side by side, they are unrelated.
I’d like to suggest that hidden behind these inconsistent translations is a window into the genius of the Hebrew language. When a person is counted in a group, it signifies the importance of his/her role in the community. And when an individual lifts her/his head, s/he is looking to acknowledge another and to be acknowledged. In this sense, a person who joins the mission of the collective is essentially asking for recognition and simultaneously recognizing the community around her/him.
When the Torah describes the counting of the sons of Gershon in the beginning of the parsha, the aim is to highlight and designate their roles in their public sphere of religious worship. Later, when the Torah describes the blessing of the kohanim, the priests bless the people that God will lift up God’s face (as it were) and acknowledge God’s congregants. In doing so, God seeks recognition from the Jewish People in return.
Reading from the Torah this week, I was privileged to recognize the blessings that my community at Pardes has given me, and in particular the tremendous opportunities for spiritual growth and ritual involvement. Reading Parshat Nasso, I affirm that not only am I fortunate to receive from my community, but I am also able to contribute. This past Monday morning I acknowledged the Pardes community and felt a glimmer of God’s “countenance” bestowed on me.
I am truly grateful for this experience of reading Torah at Pardes and bless us all that we have the good fortune to live in communities that support and bolster our spiritual growth. May God acknowledge us and grant us a personal fulfillment and solidarity with our communities’ spiritual goals.
|כב וַיְדַבֵּר ה’, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר
||22 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
|כג דַּבֵּר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל-בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תְבָרְכוּ אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אָמוֹר, לָהֶם
||23 ‘Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, saying: Thus shall you bless the children of Israel; you shall say to them:
|כד יְבָרֶכְךָ ה’, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
||24 The LORD bless you, and keep you;
|כה יָאֵר ה’ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
||25 The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and deal graciously with you;
|כו יִשָּׂא ה’ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
||26 The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
|כז וְשָׂמוּ אֶת-שְׁמִי, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַאֲנִי, אֲבָרְכֵם
||27 So they shall put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’ (Numbers 6:22-27)