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Parashat Naso 5780 — 06/06/2020

Parashat Naso 5780 — 06/06/2020

In loving memory of Emo Baer on his first Yahrzeit.

Bamidbar 4:21-7:89

Command the Children of Israel that they shall expel from the camp everyone with tzara’at, everyone who has had a zav-emission, and everyone contaminated by a human corpse. Male and female alike shall you expel, to the outside of the camp shall you expel them, so that they should not contaminate their camps, among which I dwell (5:2-3).

Seems pretty cold! Let’s get some of the detail. The camp in the desert was actually three separate camps. The inner camp, or the Camp of the Shechina (Gd’s immanent presence) consisted of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its courtyard. In the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem it consisted of the Temple precincts and the courtyard surrounding it. It obviously had the greatest degree of sanctity, and nobody who had any degree of ritual impurity was allowed to be in this camp.

Surrounding the Mishkan in the desert was the Camp of the Levites, where the tribe of Levi encamped, as a sort of guard detail around the Mishkan. In the Temple, this corresponded to the Temple Mount. This had a lesser degree of sanctity, and someone who was impure from contact with a human corpse could remain in the Camp of the Levites. Death is inevitable, and it is a great mitzvah to attend to the dead. So while corpse impurity is severe, in that it lasts 7 days and requires special purification rituals, someone with this level of impurity is only excluded from the Camp of the Shechina.

The third level, the outer circle, is the Camp of the Israelites, where everyone who was not a Levite lived. A person with a zav-emission (a kind of genital emission, similar to semen in a man and to menstrual blood in a woman), which is also a severe form of impurity, cannot enter the Camp of the Levites, but can remain in the Camp of the Israelites. Only the person with tzara’at must be expelled from all three camps, as explained in the double parashah Tazria-Metzora in the Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus).

It should be noted that the last two levels of impurity are “impurity of the body” – that is, they are internal types of impurity, rather than impurity that comes from outside the person, as in the case of contact with a corpse or with certain other types of impurity. Since these two types of impurity are in some sense intrinsic to the person himself, they are considered to be symptomatic of some spiritual defect in the person. Consequently such a person is moved farther away from the Shechina on a physical level, to reflect their greater estrangement from the Shechina on the spiritual level. Someone with tzara’at, according to the Sages, is probably guilty of improper speech, denigrating or slandering others, breaking up friendships and marriages, and must “dwell alone outside the camp” to experience the isolation that he caused to others. (He was allowed to take his cell phone, but not his charger. Diabolical.)

Or haChaim comments regarding the last clause:

The Torah means that the prohibition applies only as long as [Hashem] is dwelling there, but once the curtains were rolled up (to travel), even those with tzara’at were permitted to enter the Camps (Menachot 95a).

As we saw a few years ago, the places where the Mishkan rested had no intrinsic holiness. It was the Mishkan and the activity that took place there that lent holiness to the place, but that holiness was temporary. The holiness of the Temple Mount, on the other hand, is permanent, even though the Temple was destroyed almost 2000 years ago. R. Steinsaltz compared the former to the process of spiritual growth, which involves repeated dismantling and reconstruction of our view of life as we progress. The reality of one state of development is not the reality of a higher state, as anyone who has observed children growing up can attest. Sometimes the dismantling can be painful, especially if one does not yet have a clear idea of what will come next; hence we all go through “growing pains.”

But at the end of the road there is the Temple on its hill, a place and a source of permanent holiness. The endpoint of our spiritual growth is a state where living a spiritual life is a full-time reality, not on the level of a mood, but on the level of our awareness. This is developed through the repeated process of allowing the awareness to settle down to its own silent basis, which is transcendental to both the material and spiritual worlds. It is a place of complete holiness, completely separate from all the activity of creation. Due to our impurities however, our nervous system cannot sustain this experience, and we are, as it were, “expelled from the Camp of the Shechina,” back into the world of activity. However, every brief moment, every move in the direction of the transcendent, purifies us, until we can sustain the experience of the transcendent on a full-time basis. Our temporary holiness has become permanent.

Note that I have taught you in Parashat Bereishit (2:1-2) on the verse, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished … on the seventh day Gd completed His work,” that every created entity in existence, yearns and is consumed with desire to cling to the Living Gd, blessed is He, and this feeling of longing exists in inanimate objects as well, each according to the degree of spirituality that the Creator installed within it, based on what it needs for its existence, and for it to give praise to the Creator..”

This yearning drives the mind automatically to the transcendent. We have only to make use of it to purify and perfect ourselves and create a beautiful influence of harmony and happiness for everyone around us!

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Naso

In this parshah, Gd gives Aaron and his sons, through Moses, the Priestly Blessing, three blessings that they recite with raised hands and which lift up the souls of the priests and also the congregation to whom they direct the blessings

Numbers 6:24-26:
“May HaShem Bless you and Safeguard you”
“May HaShem Illuminate His Countenance for you and be Gracious to you.
May HaShem Lift His Countenance to you and Establish Peace for you.” (Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash)

“Bless”, “safeguard”, “Illuminate His countenance for you”, “Be Gracious to you”, “Lift His countenance to you”, “Establish Peace for you” – all these combine to bestow Gd’s Name on us, the result of which is that Gd blesses us.

What does it mean to have Gd’s Name (not “Names”) bestowed on us?

It means that the complexities of life are simplified, the many ways we experience Gd are united into One and our life becomes one with Gd, not separate from Gd: “All Your names are one” we know from the Aleinu prayer, “It is our duty” prayer we recite daily.

What additional lifting up occurs when Gd blesses us?

This means that within the Unity, the Oneness, the diversity still exists: we are One with Gd and yet also continue to play our roles as individuals, roles in which we continue to behave devotedly to Gd, to “Love Gd with all our heart, and soul and all our might” and to love Gd’s expression: Nature and people, to “love our neighbor as ourself.” Gd, from His Point of View, blesses us, raises our individualities higher and higher so that there is no distance between Gd playing the role of Gd and Gd playing the role of Creation and us.

May today and every day we experience deeper and deeper openness to the Priestly Blessings, to Gd’s Name, to Gd’s Blessings and to living these and sharing these with all and all.

Love and Baruch HaShem