5/24/2018

Shabbat Naso

Candles - Friday, May 25th @ 7:58pm
Havdalah - May 26th @ 8.51pm

The third book of the Torah, the Book of Vayikra, is often called the Priestly Book, Torat Cohanim. Because it focuses mainly on the priests and their role in the Tabernacle. The Book of Bamidbar also mentions the role of the priests, including the well-known blessing that they still give to us all.

The difference in the two books is that in Bamidbar the emphasis is more on the individual. It is primarily concerned historically with the events that led to the Children of Israel being unprepared to enter the Promised Land in their second year of freedom and being sent back into the desert for forty years. And apart from the rebellions of those forty years, it adds few new laws. These focus on personal behavior. On knowing the spirit of the law and what happens when one tries to ignore it.

Naso contains two important laws. The first concerning a Nazirite is about when people choose to live a stricter life than the Torah commands. It raises the idea that being more religious is something we should all strive for. But that it is not always a good or healthy idea. Each person decides how far he or she wishes to go beyond the requirement of the law. It's a fine line and open to abuse. Because can think that being stricter automatically means they are better. And it does not.

The Second law, of the Sotah, is also about how far you go in trusting people. It concerns the breakdown of a marriage where the partners no longer trust each other even where there has been no actual betrayal. What both these laws teach us is that although there is a clear constitution and laws, very often the spirit is just as important as the actual law itself.

Without the spirit, a law can be a dead letter. If the previous book was concerned with the details of how to be a good priest and a pure person, this book underlines the idea of how important the spirit is. Everything may look good on the surface. But underneath it may not be.

This was what was lacking when the Israelites first emerged from slavery. It took a long time to learn how to live according to the spirit. In fact, the whole book has this theme of betrayal. Betrayal of God and each other.

Relationships with human beings and with God require goodwill and good intent, not just going through the motions.