(Torah Portion Naso) Our Natural Instincts
This week’s portion Naso, contains 176 verses, the greatest number of any portion in the Torah. This number 176 is found in other areas of our tradition. For example, the largest chapter in the Book of Psalms (119) contains 176 verses and the largest tractate of the Talmud, Baba Basra, consists of 176 pages.
At present, I am not sure of the significance of this number. However, there is a parallel between our portion and chapter 119 in Psalms, and that is there is repetition in both.
The Torah is quite sparing in its narrative, descriptions and expressions, yet, in the Portion of Naso, it uncharacteristically repeats the details of the offerings which each of the twelve Tribal heads presented during the 12 days of inauguration of the Temple, although they were identical.
Our Sages explain that the Torah delineated the details of each offering to teach us that no Tribal head felt he had to outdo the other’s offering. What made each offering unique was their intent, concentration and expression.
In chapter 119 in Psalms there is a sort of repetition as well. Each of the first eight verses begins with the letter Alef, the first letter in the Hebrew Alpha Bet. The next eight verses begin with a Bais, the second letter of the Alpha Bet. This pattern of grouping eight verses beginning with a letter of the Alpha Bet continues all through the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alpha Bet, equaling 176 verses.
This particular chapter of the Psalms is customarily recited when praying of behalf of a person who is ill. We recite the group of letters corresponding to the letters of the name of the patient, followed by his/her mother’s name. This same procedure is customarily done upon visiting the grave of a loved one. We recite the sets of verses that correspond to the name of the deceased followed by his/her father’s name.
This week’s portion states the laws concerning one who takes a vow to become a Nazerite. A Nazerite is one who wishes to accept additional restrictions and elevated level of holiness upon himself. He or she cannot eat grapes, drink wine, cut their hair or come into contact with a corpse.
Over the Holiday of Shavuos I came across the following interesting question: The Torah tells us that before G-d offered the Torah to the Jews, He contacted the prophets of each of the nations of the world and offered the Torah to them. They each asked what it entails. When they were told either; Do not steal, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, they rejected it claiming that these laws went against their inborn basic make up.
When G-d approached the Jews, they unequivocally and unilaterally accepted the Torah by saying, “We will do and we will hear!”
A question raised is why is it considered so great that the Jews accepted the Torah without questioning, perhaps, all the commandments did not go against the basic nature of the Jews. The Chasidic master, Chidushai Harim explains that in fact there was a law given to the Jews that did go against their nature yet they heeded and abided by it without any questions asked.
That law was that they must keep a distance from the holy mountain. For the Jews to keep away and restrain themselves from rushing towards the mountain to gain additional spiritual elevation was something that ran against the Jew’s basic nature. Surrendering to this law qualified the Jews to be worthy recipients of the Torah. This restraint countered the non Jew’s failure to accept laws that went against their natural instincts.
We see from this that the innate and basic nature and character of a Jew is intrinsically drawn to spirituality; it is part of our spiritual DNA makeup and design.
Concerning the Revelation at Mount Sinai, the Torah speaks in the present tense rather than writing it as an event that happened in the past. Our Sages explain that the reason for this is that each Jew should feel that he has the opportunity at any point of his life to become motivated and uplifted, with the ability to reconnect or recharge himself to the timeless message of our sacred Torah, which is inherently and uniquely ours.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks