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    Marital loyalty – Naso

    May 28th, 2023

    The Torah portion we read this Shabbat sets out what has to be done if a spouse is suspected of “going astray”.

    The analogy is the situation of the Almighty and the Jew. Just as a wife should remain faithful to her husband, so a Jew must remain faithful to God.

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in one of his books of divrei Torah, illustrates this with a Talmudic example (Sanh. 105a) which says that if a Jew goes astray, the Almighty “divorces” them, so to speak, and the errant person has no further claim on the Divine generosity.

    Committing a sin against God is an indication that the sinner feels able to manage without the Almighty. However, we find in the Yom Kippur liturgy a promise that God awaits our return to Him even up to the day we die – ad yom moto yechakkeh lo lit’shuvah.

    Priestly blessings – Naso

    May 28th, 2023

    Found in Num. 6:22-27, the priestly blessing (Yevarech’cha) comes in this sidra.

    It is a mistake to translate the heading Birkat Kohanim as “The Blessing of the Priests”, which gives the impression that someone (the people? God?) is blessing the priests.

    No: the blessing comes from God and is pronounced at His command by the priests, the kohanim.

    The priests obviously deserve a commendation but so does every God-fearing Israelite.

    The blessing God gives by means of the priests is both material (“bless, protect”) and spiritual (“turn His face”). The balanced human being combines the material and the spiritual. That’s why the blessing ends with the word shalom, which means completeness.

    Ascetics – Naso

    May 28th, 2023

    The laws of the Nazirites turn our attention to the place of asceticism in Jewish thinking.

    Ascetics in every religion keep away from pleasures, luxuries and material benefits. Living a severe life is seen as a way of keeping pure and, hopefully, receiving Divine approval.

    In Judaism there have been a number of ascetic movements but on the whole the Jewish view is that whatever pleasures and joys God has planted in His world are meant for human beings to use and benefit from. The proviso is that one should not go to extremes.

    A person should eat and drink but not be a glutton. They should have fun but not make life into a joke.

    They should enjoy art, music and drama without turning one’s back on good taste and dignity. They should enjoy the environment but not worship it.

    I have a flag – Naso

    May 28th, 2023

    The Israelite camp had a flag to identify each tribe. The flags were all eloquent.

    The Midrash says that the tribe of Judah had a blue flag and its symbol was a lion; the tribe of Issachar was black and its symbol was the sun and moon; the tribe of Zebulun had a white flag and its symbol was a ship.

    Apart from these things, human psychology had its own take on the tribal flags. Each Israelite spoke by means of his flag and said, “I have a place in the world because I am a member of my people and tribe. I have a unique place because I am a unique person and not a clone of anyone else. I have my own place because I am different from other people. I know my place and don’t seek to be anyone else. My place is where I belong.”

    The heroes & heroine of Shavu’ot

    May 21st, 2023

    Ruth gleaning, by James Tissot, 1896

    The festival of Shavu’ot has an obvious focus on Moses, since it was he who brought the Israelites to Sinai and ascended the mountain to receive the Divine instructions.

    There is also a case for calling it the festival of David, who is the symbol of Jewish kingship. He was the founder of the Jewish royal dynasty for which the Ten Commandments are the national constitution.

    But that is not the end of the discussion. There is also a possibility that Shavu’ot can be regarded as the festival of Abraham, the pioneer patriarch whose dedication to the Torah principle of chesed (lovingkindness) was the central moral principle of Judaism (Micah 7:20).

    The psalmist says olam chesed yibbaneh – “The world is based on lovingkindness” (Psalm 89:3). Abraham trained his children to build a society founded on chesed (Gen. 18:19).

    All these three heroes have an association with Shavu’ot, but in addition the festival focuses on Ruth, the great-grandmother of David. Chesed is the keynote of the Megillah of Ruth which we read on this yom-tov. Shavu’ot therefore celebrates three heroes and a heroine (Midrash Ex. R. 28:1).