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Torah Sparks

June 11, 2005 - 4 Sivan 5765

Annual: Numbers 4:21 - 7:89 (Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586)
Triennial: Numbers 4:21 - 5:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586)
Haftarah: Shoftim 13:2 - 25 (Etz Hayim, p. 813; Hertz p. 602)

Prepared by David M. Eligberg
Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


This parasha continues the assignment of responsibilities amongst the Levitical clans. The Gershonites will transport the Tabernacle, its hangings, tapestries and coverings. The Merarites will transport the pillars, beams, crossbars and supporting mechanisms of the Tabernacle and the enclosure. A census of these clans concludes the national census begun in the previous parasha.

Maintaining the camp's ritual purity necessitates the exclusion of the impure to a designated area outside the camp.

Correcting for fiscal wrongdoing against another person required three steps: confession before God; return of the principal plus 20%; and an atonement offering.

An Israelite who suspects his wife of adultery must bring an offering containing neither oil nor frankincense - it is left bare to reflect the jealousies that motivated it. The woman suspected of adultery is put through a test of fealty which involved drinking a mixture of water, earth from the Tabernacle floor, and ink bled off a parchment on which a series of curses was written. The effects, or lack thereof, determined the woman's guilt or innocence.

Taking the oath of a Nazirite was a commitment by an Israelite to refrain from consuming grapes in any form and allowing his or her hair to grow untouched.

The parasha describes the anointing and sanctification of the Tabernacle and its contents. The dedication ceremony lasted for twelve days as each tribe, represented by it chieftain, brought an offering to the Tabernacle. Even though each gift was identical, the Torah enumerates every one individually helping to make this the longest parasha in the Torah.

As the dedication of the Tabernacle concludes, the Divine Presence appears above it. God's blessing upon the Israelites was to be invoked by the Kohanim in the words of Birkat Kohanim, the priestly benediction.

Discussion Topic 1: Chain Reactions

"He shall confess the wrong that he has done..." (Numbers 5:7)

Derash: Study

  • The words "that he has done" appear extraneous. The intent is [to teach] that most sins a person commits are rooted and based in a previous sin. For example, before stealing, the thief violated "thou shall not covet." Therefore, the Torah states that one should confess not only for the current sin but for the sins of the past which set the stage for and led to this sin. (Mayana Shel Torah)
  • Why is the mitzvah of confession, which is the basis of repentance for any sin, mentioned here specifically in connection with the sin of stealing? For every sin has an aspect of stealing in it. The Holy One gave the individual life and strength, to use them to do the Divine Will, and when a person uses that life and strength to violate a divine command then they are stealing a possession of God's, therefore, the root of confession and repentance are [stated] here. (Hidushey HaRim)
  • Ben Azzai taught: Pursue even a minor mitzvah and flee from an aveirah (sin); for one mitzvah generates another and one aveirah generates another. Thus, the reward for a mitzvah is another mitzvah and the penalty for an aveirah is another aveirah. (Avot 4:2)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. To what degree do you think present decisions are determined or constrained by past actions and choices?
  2. Where does the concept of Teshuvah fit in to this model?

Discussion Theme 2: Take it to the Limit... But No Farther

"If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters a Nazirite's vow, to set himself apart for the Lord..." (Numbers 6:2)

Derash: Study

  • The Nazir was commanded about three things: wine, hair cutting and ritual purity. These correspond to three facets of human [behavior]: thought, speech, and action. Haircutting effects the hair on the head wherein lies the brain and is the source of human thought. Wine connects to speech as our sages of blessed memory taught "when wine enters secrets exit." Ritual purity reflects on actions. (Shem MeShmuel)
  • This man sins against himself when he forsakes his vows of abstinence, when the days of his separation are fulfilled. He had separated himself to be holy unto the Lord and by rights he should always continue to live a life of holiness and separation to God. Now that he returns to defile himself with worldly passions, he requires atonement. (Ramban)
  • Our Torah advocates no mortification. Its intention was that man should follow nature, taking the middle road. He should eat his fill in moderation, drink in moderation. He should dwell amidst society in uprightness and faith and not in the deserts and mountains. He should not wear wool and hair nor afflict his body. On the contrary, the Torah explicitly warned us regarding the Nazirite. (Rambam, Intro to Pirke Avot (Sh'monah Perakim))

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What do Ramban and Rambam see as the sin of the Nazir?
  2. What can we infer about their views regarding the nature of human beings from their thoughts regarding the Nazir?
  3. What would each suggest are appropriate expressions of religious fervor?

Discussion Theme 3A: A Blessing On Your Head

"Speak to Aharon and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel." "Thus they shall link my name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them." (Numbers 6:23, 27)

Derash: Study

  • The matter is as follows: The basis of faith and belief is that the individual must know that all the blessings and successes as well as all the good and bad things that occur to the individual or the community come from the Holy One and there are no coincidences. Neither should one say: "This was achieved by my strength and effort alone." The Kohanim, who are emissaries of the Compassionate One must educate the people that everything derives from God,... "And all the blessings, beneficences, positives, and uplifts come from God." You shall place the seal of God upon the children of Israel on their young and old, their words and their actions, that they recognize that everything derives from My Name but that the essence of the blessing is from God. (Akedah)
  • "Thus shall you bless the children of Israel." From the attributes of Aaron, to be a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace and "thus shall you bless" the priestly benediction ismeant to bless the people of Israel with Aaron's qualities, that they too will be pursuers of peace and love each other. (Rabbi Abraham Mordechai of Gur)
  • The Priestly Blessing is said in the singular because the essential blessing that the Israelites need is unity, as they were at the time of the revelation at Sinai and it says in the singular "Israel camped at Sinai" and our sages of blessed memory learned from this that the Israelites were as one person with one heart (one intention). (The Seer of Lublin)
  • Since it says "thus shall you bless" why does the text then continue saying "May Adonai bless you"? Rather this is the issue of a blessing -- a human being does not know what blessing to invoke nor which specific things will actually be best for the one being blessed. Therefore, the text invokes Adonai to do the actual blessing since the Holy One knows what would be good for the one being blessed. (K'tav Sofer)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What resonances do you hear when the Priestly Blessing is recited?
  2. Rabbi Abraham Mordechai of Gur and The Seer of Lublin both see a specific blessing being emphasized. Why do you think they chose what they did?
  3. If you were to invoke a blessing from God for the Jewish people, what would it be?

Discussion Topic 3B: Walking the Talk

Derash: Study

  • "... With the raising up of hands." Here the Torah says "thus shall you bless " and later it states that "Aaron raised up his hands and blessed them." (Sotah 35)
  • The priestly blessing should not be "mere words in the world," rather it requires that it include the "lifting/raising up of hands" to combine the hands to the blessings of the mouth to accustom them to action and good deeds. Thus did Aharon act -- he did not rest with crossed arms nor did he suffice with uttering blessings; rather he loved peace and pursued peace between individuals and between husbands and wives. Only blessings like those with raised hands have real value. (Rabbi Yosef Hayyim Karo)
  • Sacred work requires effort and singular diligence. Our sages understood the verse "Carrying the burden on their shoulder" (Numbers 7:9) to mean that all one's strength and energy must be committed to this work. One does not easily merit even a spark of holiness. (Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why is it necessary to attach actions to the words of prayer and blessing?

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