These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE Dvar Torah] To Find Our Ways

Posted on May 30, 2014 by Carolyn Gerecht

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cargerSitting in the Beit Midrash earlier this week, I casually flipped open a Tanakh to begin jotting down some thoughts for this blog post. What’s Parshat Naso all about, anyway? I opened up Bemidbar to find out. And then I realized I was about to write a Dvar Torah about the longest parsha ever.

No, really. Parshat Naso contains the largest number of letters, words, and verses of any of the 54 parshiyot. And within the more than 300 lines it takes up in the Torah scroll, we find:

  • The conclusion of the consecration of the mishkan
  • A (limited) census
  • Laws relating to bodily eruptions or contact with a corpse
  • Laws relating to restitution
  • Sota, the infamous ritual of a suspected adulteress drinking bitter waters in the Temple
  • Nazirite vows
  • The Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim)
  • A lengthy section outlining the offerings to the altar from the each of the chieftains of the tribes, and
  • Moses hearing the Voice of God, from above the cover on top of the Ark.

Deep breath. Initially, upon reading the parsha, I felt overwhelmed by the bulk and diversity of the content. And I had great difficulty connecting each “sugya”, so to speak, to the next, and certainly to any kind of general theme. It became starkly clear to me why we always title each parsha after the first significant Hebrew word found in it; a neat headline isn’t always a feasible option, and that definitely seemed to be the case in Parshat Naso.

But as I stared into space, wondering, “What exactly is this gigantic, all-over-the-place parsha trying to teach me about being Jewish?”, it dawned on me.


Parshat Naso imparts upon the Jewish people an identical message to the one that Pardes has has imparted this year, on all of us. (Convenient, right?) It drives home my #1 takeaway from our studies this year: there are many, many ways to connect to the divine, and we must each find our own.

Generally, the Torah speaks to the Israelite community at large. Most of the laws and rituals outlined within it – and the greater narrative on the whole – apply to almost everyone. The Torah usually emphasizes togetherness; dictates societal norms; talks about a chosen people; enacts a collective system of reward and punishment. It is heavily focused on Israel’s communal destiny and on the importance of building and sustaining our nationhood.

Rarely do we feel, though we may know it in our souls, that God wants each of us to be an individual.

But Parshat Naso challenges that. Here, we see that:

  • Moses is responsible for finishing and anointing the mishkan,
  • The Gershonites are responsible for carrying its accessories,
  • The Merarites are responsible for carrying its hardware,
  • Anyone with a bodily eruption or discharge, or other similar impurities, has a unique obligation (to leave and thus protect the camp)
  • How a man or woman who has just committed a wrong can make amends,
  • The priests offer a unique blessing,
  • The chieftains offer special, and unique, sacrifices…

… and so on. We also find guidelines for those who choose to connect to the divine through asceticism, and for those who find themselves faced with unfortunate and unusual circumstances, like suspecting a partner of adultery. We see how those in search of healing, and those in positions of power, all meet with God, in different ways.

None of us can live a meaningful Jewish life by simply trying to imitate. Our different personalities, backgrounds, positions, needs and desires, and changing circumstances – all of these justify the need for many different means of connecting to God. With an eye towards thoughtfulness, integrity, and our communities, we ultimately must find the path to the divine that’s right for us.

Now, we’ve spent a year together asking questions, seeking wisdom, and taking in advice from others around us. Next, we must now point our searchlights for God towards ourselves. What are my responsibilities, obligations, privileges? What moves me closer to God? Is it a nazarite vow, or a special ritual? Is it halakha? Shabbat dinner? Chevruta study? Israel advocacy?

There are many, many ways to serve God, says Parshat Naso. We just have to find ours.