Naso – Authenticity the Key to Blessings

Right smack in the middle of this week’s Torah portion of Naso are the birkas kohanim, the priestly blessings. These blessings were given by Hashem to the kohanim in order for them to bless the Jewish people. The first one, “May the Lord bless you and watch over you” (Bamidbar 6:23), Rabbeinu Bachye in his midrashic interpretations says it means that one should be blessed with wealth and still be able to perform all the mitzvos of Hashem. The second blessing in pasuk 24 states, “May the Lord cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you.”Rabbeinu Bachye says in one of his midrashic interpretations that this means that one should be blessed with the ability to raise children who will be bnei Torah, as it says, ‘for a candle is the mitzvah and Torah is it’s light’ (Mishley 6:25). The last blessing in pasuk 25 reads, “May the Lord raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.” One of the interpretations for this blessing given by the Rabbeinu Bachye is that wherever one turns, Hashem shall raise His countenance upon you, to place upon you peace, and you will be saved from all peril and all happenstance. This refers to hashgacha pratis plus, meaning that Hashem should constantly shower one with extra-individualized, Divine intervention to take specific care of him or her in all circumstances.

The Mishna Berura (siman 128:34:) poskins [establishes the law] that according to halacha a child may duchen [give over the priestly blessings to the congregation] with other adult kohanim who are 13 and above, in order to train him how to do it. However, if kohanim at the minyan are only children, they should not do it by themselves because it is a lack of honor to the congregation to be blessed by a child. But as soon as a kohen reaches the age of maturity then he is able to give over the blessings by himself, whether he is married or not. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

However, Rabbeinu Bachye quotes a view of Rabbeinu Yitzchak HaZaken the Baal Tosfos who says that a kohen should not duchen unless he is married. Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to say, “In truth there is a basis for this because a person isn’t complete without his soulmate, and he is not fit to bless or to receive blessing. For this reason Nadav and Avihu deserved to be punished, for they did not want to get married and the daughters of Israel were waiting for them and were sitting unmarried their entire lives. I I have had already written discussed that this is one of the six reasons given by Chaza”l in their midrashim for their sin. For this the pasuk writes, ‘Fire consumed His youths and His virgins were not married’ (Tehillim 78:63). Why did ‘Fire consumed His youths’ because His virgins were not married, from here we see they were punished according to one of the opinions, for they were not fit for the Jews to be blessed through them. Therefore, the kohen needs to be complete, with his soulmate, as an example of the traits that come through the blessings given by them.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The famous Baal Tosfos, the R”I, holds that only married kohanim can give the priestly blessings to the congregation because he has to be considered a complete person in order to properly give over the Divine blessings. These blessings, with all of their meanings to the congregation, include that one’s children should be brought up to be children of Torah, that they be Torah observant and appreciate the Torah lifestyle and learning it, which means one has to be married to have the children.

However, what would be wrong, according to Rabbeinu Yitzchak Hazaken, with an unmarried kohen who hopes to one day get married, or even a child learning, if they strive to one day be in this position to accept and give over the blessing of children who will one day be bnei Torah? One could understand why Nadav and Avihu were punished on their level for being very picky when trying to find a shidduch, and therefore putting themselves into a position where they seem never to get married and were not deserving to give these blessings, which is why Hashem killed them. But anyone else who is single, who would like to one day get married, why would they not be able to duchen even when they are not yet married?

It would seem from Rabbeinu Bachye that because he says in his last line, “Therefore, the kohen needs to be complete, with his soulmate, as an example of the traits that come through the blessings given by them,” that in terms of giving the Divine blessing one has to be completely authentic. Therefore until he truly understands and experiences the meaning of the blessing, which is when he is married and in position to have children, then he can’t fully relate to the blessing, and therefore cannot give it over properly to the congregation.

Authenticity is so important to Hashem, that at least in regards to such an important service as giving over the blessings that Hashem granted the kohanim to give the congregation, the R”I HaZaken is of the view that only married people, those that are complete and true to the blessings are fit to give them. This is even at the expense that there might be times no one would be able to give the blessings, for example in a yeshiva where there are no married kohanim, but complete authenticity is more important in his view.

Though we poskin that an unmarried kohen can indeed duchen for the congregation, assumedly because Chaza”l in their vast wisdom understood that this ideal high level is not required (possibly, as long as one day a kohen hopes to be married he can relate enough to this blessing therefore they are allowed to duchen), there is still a lesson in authenticity to be learned and much appreciated from Rabbeinu Yitzchak Hakohen, Baal HaTosfos.  

Naso – Humility and Humiliation

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The last part of this week’s Torah portion of Naso discusses the dedication of the Mishkan. Each of the heads of the tribe brought a set of offerings at the dedication. The first was Yehuda, (Bamidbar 7:12,13).

The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Yehuda. יבוַיְהִ֗י הַמַּקְרִ֛יב בַּיּ֥וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֖וֹן אֶת־קָרְבָּנ֑וֹ נַחְשׁ֥וֹן בֶּן־עַמִּֽינָדָ֖ב לְמַטֵּ֥ה יְהוּדָֽה:
13And his offering was one silver bowl weighing one hundred and thirty [shekels], one silver sprinkling basin [weighing] seventy shekels according to the holy shekel, both filled with fine flour mixed with olive oil for a meal offering. יגוְקָרְבָּנ֞וֹ קַֽעֲרַת־כֶּ֣סֶף אַחַ֗ת שְׁלשִׁ֣ים וּמֵאָה֘ מִשְׁקָלָהּ֒ מִזְרָ֤ק אֶחָד֙ כֶּ֔סֶף שִׁבְעִ֥ים שֶׁ֖קֶל בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ שְׁנֵיהֶ֣ם | מְלֵאִ֗ים סֹ֛לֶת בְּלוּלָ֥ה בַשֶּׁ֖מֶן לְמִנְחָֽה:

Rabbeinu Bachye says that the tribe of Yehuda came first for all the things, whether the travels in the desert with the flags, the dedication of the Mishkan, or during war, as well as inheriting the land, and the future redemption (may it come speedily in our days.) By the offerings of the tribes, the Torah writes “his offering,” but by Nachshon (here), who was the first, the Torah writes “and his offering,” the reason being that he would not feel haughty above the others and say ‘I am first before everyone else.’ Therefore, pasuk 13 begins “And his offering,” as if he came after everyone else; and by everyone else it says “his offering,” as if each one was first. For this reason, it does not mention the title of ‘prince’ by Nachshon, but by all other tribal leaders who brought their offering after him they are given the title of ‘prince.’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from this Rabbeinu Bachye that in order to avoid any haughtiness coming from the tribe of Yehuda and their leader, Nachshon ben Aminadav, Hashem added an “and,” which implies he was not first and left out his deserved title of prince whereas everyone received their title.

Isn’t this a game? The Tribe of Yehuda and it’s head certainly knew who they were and would always be first; deserving of the kingship, which wound up coming through the Davidic line leading up to Moshiach. So why should one added letter and one less word in the Torah make an impact to subjugate their potential haughtiness, especially if it’s not totally true, they really were the first to bring the offering and he really was a prince like all the other tribal leaders?

However, it would seem that this is not a game. When a person sees he is different from everyone else and the message is a message of inferiority, even though he knows intellectually it is not true, but the “in your face” message can make an impact on a person psychologically, and someone who knows he is number one will automatically be humbled.

If that is the case for someone who is on top, then all the more so a lowly person, who might not have the greatest self-esteem, will be triggered and tormented even by the slightest and most subtle of remarks regarding subjugation, and that will cause great humiliation. Therefore, others have to be very careful what they say or do, and especially to not purposefully hurt someone’s feelings even with what seem to be a very minor joke or insult.

Naso – Expectations to Appreciate What You Can Have

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In this week’s Torah portion of Naso we discuss the status of a nazir. A nazir separates oneself from this world in 3 ways; he or she cannot cut their hair, drink wine or any grape products and cannot come in contact with the dead. An average nazirus [period of being a nazir]  is thirty days. The Torah states, “Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them: A man or woman who sets oneself apart by making a nazirite vow to abstain for the sake of the Lord” (Bamidbat 6:2), and Rashi asks there, “Why is the section dealing with the nazarite placed in juxtaposition to the section dealing with the sotah? To tell you that he who has once seen a sotah in her disgrace should abstain from wine, because it may lead to adultery (Sotah 2a)…Too keep himself aloof from wine for the sake of Heaven. (Nedarim 9b, Sifri Naso 1:84.)”

The nazir is separating oneself from worldly matters for formidable reasons, for the sake of heaven; for example, in order to not fall into sin. Yet the Gemara in Taanis 11a says, “Shmuel said: Whoever sits in observance of a fast is called a sinner, as it is inappropriate to take unnecessary suffering upon oneself. The Gemara comments: Shmuel holds in accordance with the opinion of the following tanna, as it is taught in a baraisa: Rabbi Elazar HaKappar the Great says: What is the meaning when the verse states, with regard to a nazirite: “And he will atone for him for that he sinned by the soul [nefesh]” (Numbers 6:11). But with what soul did this nazirite sin? Rather, the nazirite sinned by the distress he caused himself when he abstained from wine, in accordance with the terms of his vow. And are these matters not inferred a fortiori (kal vachomer)? And if this nazirite, who distressed himself by abstaining only from wine, is nevertheless called a sinner and requires atonement, then with regard to one who distresses himself by abstaining from each and every matter of food and drink when he fasts, all the more so should he be considered a sinner.”

The Torah says a sacrificial atonement has to be brought by the nazir if he was in contact with the dead and ruined his first nazirus (see Rashi in Nazir 19a that says that a nazir is really liable as soon as he began to abstain from wine but he only is allowed to attain his atonement when he messes up and has to start all over again.) The Torah specifically states, “The kohen shall prepare one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering and atone on his behalf for sinning on his soul, and he shall sanctify his head on that day” (Bamidbar 6:11).

The Daas Zekeinim explaining what exact sin the nazir has done saying that “sinning on his soul” (מֵֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטָ֖א עַל־הַנָּ֑פֶשׁ) is similar to the language used in Shoftim 20:16, “All these could sling a stone at a hair-breadth and not miss.” (כָּל־זֶ֗ה קֹלֵ֧עַ בָּאֶ֛בֶן אֶל־הַֽשַּׂעֲרָ֖ה וְלֹ֥א יַחֲטִֽא). The Targum says it means “he changed from;” in this case he changed his soul and prevented it from drinking wine. This is similar to the drasha brought by Chaza”L, ‘who distressed himself abstaining from wine.’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Daas Zekeinim is explaining this pasuk based on the gemaras in Nazir and Taanis which say that a nazir deserves an atonement for just abstaining from what he was once permitted. This isn’t a sin per say but it still is deserving of an atonement because he is going against the norm and what he has been accustomed to. Why is this a problem, especially in lieu of the fact that Rashi pointed out earlier that he is doing this for the sake of Heaven, to not indulge too much in worldly matters, and to stay away from sin? Also, wine is known to be something which can cause much harm or inappropriateness, like what happened by Noach and Lot. So it would seem that what a nazir is doing is a very positive thing; so why is he deserving of an atonement even if he did not mess up on his nazirus?

It would seem that forbidding something which G-D permits to you is a problem because you are changing something which  you are allowed to have. The reason why this is a problem deserving of an atonement can be understood from the words of the Mesillas Yesharim and Orchos Tzadikim.
The Mesilas Yesharim in his section on Kedusha, chapter 26, says “Behold, for the man sanctified with the holiness of his Creator, even his physical deeds become actual matters of holiness. A sign of this is in “the eating of temple offerings”, which our sages of blessed memory said: “the priests eat and the owners obtain atonement” (Pesachim 59b)… But for the Holy man who constantly clings to his G-d, whose soul treads freely among true thoughts in love of his Creator and fear of Him, behold, it is considered as if he is walking before G-d in the Land of the Living, while still here in this world. Such a man is himself considered as a tabernacle, a temple and an altar. This is as our sages said (Gen. Rabba 62:6)… For the Shechina (divine presence) dwells within them just as it dwelled in the Temple. Due to this, the food they eat is like a sacrifice offered upon the fire of the altar, for certainly it was a great elevation for those things to be offered on the altar, since they were offered before the Shechina… So too, the food and drink which the holy man eats elevates that food or drink as if it had actually been offered on the altar… and “[if a man wishes to offer a wine libation upon the altar], let him fill the throat of the Torah scholars with wine” (Yomah 71a). This does not mean that Torah scholars were craving for food and drink, G-d forbid, that one fills their throats like one stuffs a glutton. Rather, the matter is according to the intent I explained. That Torah scholars who are holy in their ways and in all their deeds are actually just like the Temple and the altar, for the Shechina (divine presence) literally dwells upon them as it did in the Temple. Thus, what is offered to them is as offered on the altar, and the filling of their throat is as the filling of the basins.”  We see how a righteous person can take something mundane, even wine, and make it holy when being used with proper intentions, and this Nazir wants to lose that potential opportunity by abstaining from wine?! Putting oneself in that potential missed opportunity deserves an atonement! (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Furthermore the Orchos Tzadikim in the Gate of Happiness discusses the pros and cons of drinking, and by the advantages he says: “From all of these citations we can know the praise of wine when it is drunk according to the measure of the wise who drink a specified amount — so that the intelligence may be stronger than the wine and not the wine be stronger than the intelligence, and who drink at a set time, together, and not with those barren of knowledge, vain and empty. For wine adds deep wisdom, a tree of life for those that hold it. And wine adds wisdom to the intelligent person but doubles the folly of the fool. It revives the love of a friend but stirs up the enmity of a foe. It opens the hand of the generous and hardens the heart of a miser. And thus should be the manner of one who drinks wine. He should use the wine as a healing for his worry and thus strengthen himself in Torah to study it with joy, for when a man is plunged in grief he cannot study and even judges of courts of law, when they are grieved, cannot give a clear judgment. Grief also disturbs the concentration of the mind on one’s prayer. Also, when a man is plunged in pain or grief he has not the strength to fulfill the request of someone who is speaking to him or is asking him for a favor. And it is written : “In an acceptable time have I answered you” (Is. 49:8). Therefore, an intelligent person should direct himself in drinking wine in this manner — that he should remember not to drink too much so as to be compelled by his condition to neglect his work and his affairs. And, moreover, he must guard himself from drinking so much that he neglects his study of the Torah and his prayers, or until he becomes too frivolous and lightheaded. And he should not drink to the extent that he reveals his secrets or the secrets of others. And if you will drink in this moderate measure, wine will not become loathsome to you. Even on Holidays and Festivals, of which it is written : “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 12:18), one should not prolong his drinking more than is proper, as it is said : “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart” (Ibid. 28:47). From this you learn that we have not been commanded to rejoice in a manner that the Creator of all is forgotten. For it is impossible to serve the Lord, may He be Blessed, out of lightheadedness, or laughter, or drunkenness.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Ultimately there is a balance that must be made when it comes to indulging in worldly pleasures, especially drinking wine. We cannot deny that Hashem did create a concept of a nazir, as there is a whole portion about it in the Torah and a whole masechta dedicated to it in the gemara. Therefore it must be permitted, and possibly needed, for some people to best stay out of trouble; however we see from here that it is not the ideal situation. One should preferably use drinking wine and other worldly matter for the sake of Heaven, to serve Him  optimally, as Hashem intended for us in this world. For this reason, a nazir, even if he is abstaining for only thirty days and even if he did not break his nazirus, really is in need of atonement.

We see from here how much we must appreciate what Hashem gives us in this world and to use it wisely because that is what Hashem wants us to do.

Consciences about What Others Think

At the end of last week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar, the Torah counts and discusses the role of the family of Kehas in the carrying of the mishkan. Then in the first two pesukim of this week’s Torah portion of Naso, it begins: “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Raise up the head of the children of Gershon them also according to their father’s house, according to their family” (Bamidbar 4:21, 22).

The Daas Zekeinim, and the Rosh in a bit more detail, were wondering why the pasuk says “them also,” as if we would have thought otherwise. They answer: “for because of the earlier census (3:17) which was from one month old and older, the children of Gershon were counted first since he was the oldest of the tribe of Levi, as it says ‘And the children of Levi, Gershon, Kehas, and Merrari’ (Breishis 46:11). But this census of age 30 and up the children of Kehas were counted first because the main service was upon them, i.e. they carried the aron (ark), shulchan (table of the showbread), and the alters (see earlier 3:31). This is why it mentions “them also” by the children of Gershon, meaning that even though the children of Kehas were commanded to be counted first, the children of Gershon were not left out and not fully counted, rather they also were counted. [Click here and here for Hebrew text.] 

The family of Gershon was the first to be counted in the general census of the tribe of Levi, from one month of age and older, because Gershon was the firstborn of Levi. But when it came time to count the census of those doing the service for the Mishkan, from ages 30 to 50, the family of Kehas was counted first. Therefore the Torah says to not worry, the family of Gershon will also be counted in this census of the workers. The simple and obvious question is what is the concern? A few pesukim later in pasuk 38 the count for the family of Gershon is counted amongst those who are able to serve. They didn’t do anything wrong; there is nothing to suspect them about. The family of Kehas just had a more important role in the Mishkan than the family of Gershon, so why did the Torah have to waste two extra words just to tell us don’t worry they will be counted?

It must be, then, that people have a natural tendency of being suspicious of change when something different happens. We learn from here that one has a responsibility to quell the suspicions as much as possible at the very least in cases where there is no reason for anyone to be suspect as in this scenario. For this reason Hashem felt compelled to foreshadow at the beginning of the Torah portion that the family of Gershon will be counted in the second census even though, with enough patience we would see in the next aliyah that they are counted.