May 30, 2015 – 12 Sivan 5775
Annual (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89): Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586
The Israelites continue their final preparations to leave Sinai, as the Levitical clan of Gershon is commanded to watch over the Tabernacle curtains and the clan of Merari is made responsible for the Tabernacle structure. Impure Israelites are ordered to leave the camp, while those who have harmed another person must make financial restitution.
Triennial (Numbers 5:11 – 6:27: Etz Hayim, p. 796; Hertz p. 589
Haftarah (Judges 13:2 – 25): Etz Hayim, p. 813; Hertz p. 602
We learn that when a married woman is accused (without definitive proof) of adultery, she is brought to the priest. Her husband brings an offering of barley flour, and the woman is required to drink bitter water. If drinking that water causes her belly to distend and her thigh to sag, it is proof of her guilt; if her body does not change, she is vindicated.
An Israelite is allowed to make a vow of the Nazir, in which he or she abstains from drinking alcohol, trimming his or her hair, or going near a dead body. At the conclusion of the vow's fulfillment, the Israelite brings an offering and can resume the previously-forbidden activities.
The priests are introduced to a three-fold benediction used to bless the people.
The chieftain of each tribe brings an identical gift for the Tabernacle over the course of 12 days.
Theme #1: If I Were a Nazir
Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters a nazirite's vow, to set himself apart for the Lord, he shall obstain from wine and any other intoxicant; he shall not drink vinegar of wine or of any other intoxicant, neither shall he drink anything in which grapes have been steeped, nor eat grapes fresh or dried. (Numbers 6:2-3)
An Israelite who wants to go a step beyond God's commandments is allowed to take on several additional stringencies with a Nazirite vow.
The sin of the faithless wife runs counter to all reason and human nature but so does the abstinence practiced by the Nazirite. … As long as there are in the world individuals whose immoral conduct is contrary to reason and custom, there must be others who will exceed the bounds of reason in saintly conduct and keep away as far as possible from immorality by imposing all manner of legal safeguards on their own behavior. -- Musar
All Nazirites must abstain from wine, and the Torah characterizes them as saintly men. Why, then, should Rashi imply that the defiled Nazirite is a sinner because he abstains from wine? Abstinence from wine in order to be a Nazirite and to keep away from physical pleasure is not a sin. In fact, it is considered saintly conduct. But if the Nazirite became defiled due to his own carelessness, so that the law “but the former days (of the Naziriteship) shall be void” applies, then all this previous abstinence from wine had served no purpose and constituted a sin (since he vainly denied himself what God had made for the use of mankind). -- Klei Yakar
The aspiration to achieve a state of ecstatic transcendentalism, the negation of life and this mortal world, the annihilation of existence and reality, the reaching out of the religious personality to the ethereal world that stretches beyond the confines of tangible existence is embodied in many of the systems of conduct involving asceticism, vows of abstinence and withdrawal from society. The religious personality sometimes imagines that afflictions, suffering, fasts and solitude constitute the media bringing immortal happiness to man … according to this outlook, the man who withdraws from the world and forgoes earthly and ephemeral pleasures is rewarded with eternal life and a sublime, spiritual existence. -- Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, The Halakhic Personality
Questions for Discussion:
The Musar suggests that exceedingly pious people provide a needed balance to those who go out of their way to be sinful. Are the laws of the Nazir a fair compensation for the sin of adultery? We generally agree that two wrongs don't make a right, but does one extreme "right" nullify the damage of an excessive "wrong"? Are there any other ways that the rules of the Nazirite are related to the consequences that face accused adulterers?
Klei Yakar believes that a Nazirite who sins in spite of abstaining from alcohol makes a mockery of being a teetotaler. Is it more disappointing when others commit wrongdoing if they suffer from a certain sickness (such as alcoholism) or if they choose a wayward path independently of any outside forces? Likewise, is it easier for us to to blame an outside force when we make mistakes or to own up to the choices we make with full mind and body?
Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that many people look to asceticism to achieve a more ethical life. Although Judaism has strains of self-denial within its framework, many other aspects of the religion point to enjoying certain pleasures in moderate doses. Why would someone be drawn to become a Nazirite? Might we suggest alternate methods of limiting pleasure to lead us to better living? What might some of those methods be?
Theme #2: Blessed For Success
Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them: The Lord bless you and protect you! The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you! The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace! Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them. (Numbers 6:23-27)
The words of the priestly benediction have inspired generations of Jews, linking their lives to those of some of our earliest ancestors.
The matter of the priestly benediction raises many fascinating questions. First of all, what is the benefit of this commandment [to Aaron and his sons], that the priests should bless the people, doesn’t God do that already; what can the priest add? And then what is the meaning of “And they shall set My Name on the Israelites?” What is meant by this “setting” and what is its benefit? And finally, what is the meaning of “and I shall bless them?” All of these questions can be explained thus: The foundation of faith is that a person know that everything, the good things, the successes and all the bad occurrences and the good ones, in general and in specific, flow from the Holy One (even the Name is blessed). There is no event and no one can say, “By my strength and by my power alone has this come to pass.” -- Akeidah
If the Jewish people receives blessings, the priests benefit also, for they will then receive more priestly gifts. As a result it may happen that when the priests bless the Children of Israel they will think also of their own advantage as they recite the blessing. To forestall this possibility, Scripture says: “You shall say to them” … As you bless the people your thoughts should be only of them and not of yourselves. -- K’tav Sofer
If a group of Jews, zealous in their desire to “lift up their countenance toward the Lord,” divide even a small amount of food into many small portions so that as many individuals as possible should have an amount of food the size of an olive (in order to be able to recite the Grace after Meals), contention may ensue, because wherever there is only little to eat, with many mouths to feed, there likely to be quarreling. For this reason the Priestly Blessing includes the blessing of peace. -- Kehilat Yitzhak
Questions for Discussion:
Akeidah reminds us that any time a person utters a blessing, it must be a recognition that God and not the person is the source of the blessing. Do people of faith forget this from time to time? What causes this forgetfulness? How do the words of the Priestly Benediction offer a way for us to remember the value of humility?
K'tav Sofer believes that the Torah's wording helps to forestall the possibility that the priests will think only of themselves while saying their benediction. What runs through our minds when we recite prayers? How easy is it to think only of our own respective situations while reciting the words? What other methods can help us to consider everyone's plight when we are speaking to God?
Kehilat Yitzhak reminds us that when we try to please everyone, we often please no one. How can we summon the courage to make wise decisions for a community, even at the risk of displeasing a portion of those in the community? How do we motivate aggrieved people to remain part of the community in spite of their displeasure?