My Bible study notes on Parashat Naso

Parashat Naso

Numbers 4

4:49   According to the commandment of the LORD they were numbered by the hand of Moses, every one according to his service, and according to his burden: thus were they numbered of him, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Comment: Rashi comments that the counting here was done as Gd commanded in Numbers 4:3, that is, Moses counted Levites from 30-50 years old, who will assist the priests to serve Gd. This is differently from the counting of Israelites, who were counted from 20 years old, for serving in the troops. Why is a strong young Levite of 20 years old not regarded as mature enough to assist the priests? It turns out that serving Gd by assisting the priests, not only requires physical strength, but also spiritual maturity to treat his assistantship to be, surprisingly, as exalted as the reigning of a king, as the Levites‘ “inaugural age” 30 alludes to. Joseph the servant didn’t become the effective ruler of Egypt until age 30 (Genesis 41:46). David didn’t reign as king until age 30 (II Samuel 5:4). Jesus didn’t start to preach the kingdom of Gd until age 30 (Luke 3:23). Jesus is both Gd’s ultimate servant (the Messiah son of Joseph), and His anointed king (the Messiah son of David), who has unified the two opposite roles of a servant and a king. Jesus also taught his followers in Matthew 20:25-28: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

Numbers 5

5:13   And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner;

Comment: Rashi noted here that the married woman was found to be alone with a man who is not her husband. This is called seclusion, which should be avoided as much as possible (except for some special situations), since it could lead to adultery (or suspicions of adultery). Torah explicitly forbids adultery (in 10 commandments) with death penalty (Leviticus 20:10). Seclusion is prohibited in Jewish culture as a preventative measure against adultery, see, e.g.,

https://www.sie.org/templates/sie/article_cdo/aid/2309099/jewish/Chapter-1-Yichud-What-Where-and-With-Whom-1.htm

 

Numbers 6

6:2    Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD:

Comment: Rashi comments here about the proximity of the description of the Nazarites to the description of testing a possible adulterous woman, and makes a connection that avoidance of wine could help prevent adultery. I wonder if there is a connection also between the teaching on Nazarites and another close-by teaching on blessing of Israelites. Also, how is growing long hair related to not drinking wine for Nazarites? I don’t know how to answer these questions.

 

6:24 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:

6:25 The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

6:26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Comment: This is the famous three-verse priestly blessing.

In Hebrew, the first verse of this priestly blessing consists of three words. This reminds me three forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In this blessing we are blessed as the three forefathers were blessed, “in all”, “from all”, “all”, as mentioned in the grace after meals and alluded to in the Torah. (See, e.g., http://www.jewishduluth.org/rabbi/2010/11/4/everything.html or https://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/vayish67.htm .) Gd is the Gd of Abraham, Gd of Isaac, Gd of Jacob, a personal Gd to each of us, this also explains why the priestly blessings are bestowed upon a singular object, you.

In Hebrew, the second verse of the priestly blessing consists of five words. This reminds me of the five books of Torah, which represent Gd’s word. In this blessing we are blessed with Gd’s word. This verse involves a word related to light, since Gd’s word is the light that guides our living in this world. This verse also involves a word related to grace, since we our personal effort is not enough to uphold Torah, without ultimately relying on Gd’s grace. 

In Hebrew, the third verse of the priestly blessing consists of seven words. This reminds me of the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest made holy and blessed by the creator, which represents the perfection and harmony of both the physical world and the spiritual world. In this blessing we are blessed with the world to come, in which there will be a perfect peace. 

These three verses of the priestly blessing, therefore, encompass our past, our present, and our future, and are originated from the one L-RD who was, who is, and who will be.

 

Numbers 7

7:7          Two wagons and four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershon, according to their service:

Comment: Rashi commented here that the hardness of work is proportional to the number of wagons given to each Levite division. If so, then why is the division of Kohath not given any wagon, while they have to carry the holy items such as the ark on their shoulders (Numbers 7:9)? There is a Jewish legend that in fact the ark carries its carriers. (A derivation and interpretation can be seen at https://www.sefaria.org/Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Shemot.25.10.9?lang=bi .) The ark contains the tablets, on which Ten Commandments are written, so it represents Gd’s word. When we make an effort to carry it (to live according to what Gd says), it (Gd’s word) then carries us to live (through our life’s burden). A concrete example is the divine commandment of resting on sabbath. Carrying out this commandment of rest helps us to be recharged weekly to carry out our worldly burdens. The New Testament regards Jesus as the incarnation of Gd’s word, who carries our burdens. So that is why Jesus says: (Matthew 11:28-30) “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

As a coincidence, around the time when I  was reading the Bible portion about the wagons this year, I was also helping my dad to type up his autobiography, up to the place where his colleagues rented 6 oxen wagons when surveying and making maps for a mountain area in northeastern China. The oxen wagons were used to transport surveying equipment, food, batteries, and luggage (back in 1957). These items are important, but are not alive, so they need to be carried by oxen wagons. The holy ark, on the other hand, is representing Gd’s living word, so they should not be carried by oxen wagons as if lifeless and heavy. (Unfortunately, until today many Jews are still averse to the concept of incarnation of Gd’s word. ) Uzza was killed due to a mistake of carrying the ark on a wagon, as recorded in 1st Chronicles 13, many years after the era of the book of Numbers. Apparently, people forgot about the teaching here from the book of Numbers in the Torah. (By the way, this is one of the many examples showing the life-importance of Torah in the whole Bible. Another such example, recorded in the 1st Samuels, is the failure of King Saul, due to his negligence of observing the Torah commandment of wiping out the Amaleks.)