Naso 5760

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Naso

This d’var Torah was originally distributed by Kolel: The Adult Center for Jewish Learning during the year 5760 and can be found in its archives.

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)


If you belong to a community that celebrates two days of Yom Tov (the Biblical holy days of Rosh Hashana, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot), then you’re reading a selection from the Book of Deuteronomy on Shabbat, which coincides with the second day of Shavuot. Conversely, if you belong to a community which celebrates only one day of those holidays (such as almost everybody in Israel, or Reform or Reconstructionist synagogues), then you are reading the next regular Torah portion, Naso, this Shabbat. Therefore, as a pluralistic and inclusive website, we will offer both communities a drash this week. We will revisit Naso again next week as well, and proceed from there.

Parshat Naso contains rules for the priests, for the clans of the tribe of Levi, for testing an unfaithful spouse, and for the Nazir, who is a person who has taken special vows of dedication to God. Then the heads of the tribes bring gifts for the dedication of the Mishkan (compare this section to Parshat Vayekhel) and at the very end Moshe hears the Voice of God in the Ohel Moed, or “Tent of Meeting” at the heart of the Mishkan.


“When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with God, he heard the Voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the Testimony. And he spoke with The Holy One.”


Only Moshe enters the innermost sanctuary of the Mishkan, where there are two “cherubim,” or figures of divine beings, set above the covering of the Ark containing the tablets of the Torah which Moshe brought down from Sinai. There Moshe hears the Voice of God instructing him on how to lead the Israelites.


Rashi notes that the verse specifically says that the Voice of God spoke “to him,” meaning Moshe, and interprets this to mean that even Aharon did not hear God in the tent. Rashi further proposes that because the text says “the Voice,” Moshe heard it as the same Voice he heard on Sinai, emanating, as it were, from the space between the two angel-figures. (No, not little naked babies with wings, but some kind of representation of a unique Divine beings.) Finally, Rashi quotes a midrash which says that the Voice did not go forth past the walls of the tent itself, so truly only Moshe could know what was going on in there.

Now, the latter midrash is rather amazing; ordinarily, any noise within the mere fabric of tent walls is pretty easy to hear outside the tent itself. So Rashi is going to great lengths to stress that only Moshe and no one else communicated with God within the Tent. To put it another way, only Moshe could perceive that the Voice of Sinai is the same Voice that guided the Israelites on their daily travels. This the Voice which emerges “from between the cherubim;” as Rashi would have it, from the space between them.

We learned in Exodus 25 that the two cherubim- whatever they looked like- faced each other. This image was once explained to me (I believe, but am not sure, in the name of Aviva Zornberg) as a metaphor for the holiness of human intimacy; these two beings face each other, and God, as it were, is found between them. For many people, intimate human relationships are where they find their greatest spirituality; the famous philosopher Martin Buber suggested that truly connective and equal interactions between people are a place where the Divine is revealed.

Thus, perhaps we can read in this verse (with Rashi’s help) a description of great religious integration- the kind that only a Moshe possessed in his day. Someone with the insight of a Moshe hears (perceives ? experiences? ) the commanding Voice of Sinai, the God of our Ancestors, the God of our Torah, as the same God who is the Source of human love. The awe one feels before the transcendent Deity is but the “flip side” of the warmth one feels in true human connections -these are two aspects of the same “spiritual experience.” Moshe understood the radical implications of monotheism- all of our deepest and most profound insights come from one Source, whether that Source is deep within us, found “between” us, or calling to us from the pages of Torah.


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