Naso – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

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Naso: Sunday: Surrounding Lights

Lift the heads of the sons of Gershon”. The sons of Gershon carry the curtains of the Tabernacle, the sons of Merari carry the boards of the Tabernacle and the sons of Kehat carry the vessels of the Tabernacle.

There is a pair of important basic concepts in the inner dimension of the Torah: Inner Light and Surrounding Light. Inner Light can be likened to the vitality of the soul that appears individually – specific and limited – within the various bodily organs: The power of thought in the brain, for example, or the power of sight in the eye, and the like. Surrounding Light is light that does not divide into specifics. It equally surrounds all levels, like the general, hidden vitality that is equally found in the intellect and in the heel of the foot. Surrounding Light is more lofty. It is general, infinite light. But it is not apprehended in the consciousness or experience of individuals. Thus, it is called Surrounding Light, on the outside, as it were.

The curtains of the Tabernacle are Surrounding Lights. They equally surround and wrap all the different vessels. “Lift the heads of the sons of Gershon” alludes to lifting the Surrounding Lights to an even loftier place. What does this mean? Above the Surrounding Lights is the root of the Inner Lights. In other words, at the first level of the Divine plan, G-d wants us to get to the Inner Light, to relate to the most miniscule of details. This is the ultimate purpose of His intention. The root of the details is above the general Surrounding Light. “The final act depends upon the initial thought” – the Inner Light at the end of the act is an intrinsic part of the initial thought.

Naso: Monday: The Inner Melody

All who come to serve the service of serving and the service of carrying in the Tent of Meeting”. What is “the service of serving”? Rashi explains that this is “the song with cymbals and violins, which is service for another service”. The singing and music of the Levites accompanies and serves the service of the Priests. It seems to be background music.

The Priests do not sing. Their service is “in secret and desire of the heart”, an inner, focused and intention-infused service. The service of the Levites, on the other hand, is “to lift their voices”, an external service that can be heard by all. These two services are connected and influence each other. The same is true of the service of prayer. It is written that “the voice awakens the intention of the heart”. Prayer out loud, with song, awakens the inner intention of the heart. On the other hand, the inner intention of the heart awakens one to sing.

Still, we do not hear the actual inner intention in the song or music. The music simply serves the inner dimension of the heart. But in the future, the Levites will ascend to the level of the Priests, as is written, “And the Priests the Levites”. Then there will be a complete connection between the inner and outer dimensions and we will hear the actual song of the inner dimension of the heart.

Naso: Tuesday: The Mitzvah of Confession

A man or a woman if they commit of all the sins of a person, to transgress a transgression against G-d, and that soul shall be guilty. And they shall confess their sins that they committed.”  This is the Torah source for the mitzvah of confession and return to G-d, which is how the Rambam opens his Laws of Return to G-d: “All mitzvahs in the Torah…if a person transgressed one of them…when he returns to G-d and returns from his sin he is obligated to confess before G-d, blessed is He.”

The Rambam counts three stages: “when he returns to G-d and returns from his sin he is obligated to confess.”  The first stage, “when he returns to G-d”  is his recognition of the fact that he has sinned, leading to a feeling of deep remorse. In the soul, this feeling is from the sefirah of binah, understanding: “And his soul will understand and return.”  This is the stage of submission in the soul.

The second stage, “and he returns from his sin”, is complete abandonment of the sin alongside firm resolution not to go back to sinning. At this stage, the binah extends to the sefirah of gevurah, might, as in the verse, “ I am binah, gevurah is mine.” This is the stage at which the person overpowers his evil inclination: “Who is a gibor/mighty? He who conquers his evil inclination.” After the initial stage of submission, the former sinner has reached the stage of separation, during which he separates himself from the reality of the sin.

The third stage is “he is obligated to confess.” The first two stages take place in the person’s inner world. But the mitzvah required at the end is the act of speech, “verbal confession”. At this stage, the sefirah of binah reaches its farthest span – the sefirah of hod, splendor. In Hebrew, the root ‘hod’ also means ‘to confess’. After the submission and the separation, this is the stage of sweetening. The speech sweetens the person’s inner storm and atonement follows on its heels (as in our verses, in which confession precedes the bringing of the sacrifice).

The Rambam emphasizes that the confession is before G-d, blessed is He.” After the depth of remorse and abandonment of the sin, it is only with the simple, sincere, verbal confession that we are truly standing and speaking with G-d: “We have sinned before you”. This is the superiority of hod, which is like an echo (hed) that returns and strikes the deepest of depths.

Naso: Wednesday: Overcoming Addiction

“A man or a woman, if he sets himself apart to make a vow to consecrate himself to be a nazir to G-d.” Why does a person vow to become a nazir? (The nazir is a person who takes upon him or herself a vow not to drink wine or its derivatives, cut one’s hair, or come into close contact with the dead). Apparently, the nazir felt addicted to wine, drunkenness and superficial revelry and now wishes to embark on a process of overcoming his addiction. (From the laws of the nazir we learn that every process of overcoming addiction begins with thirty days, the minimum time period to which a person who wishes to be a nazir must commit).

Initially, the nazir forces himself not to drink wine or its derivatives, which is called itkafyah, the service of self-coercion. Following the initial itkafyah, the abstinence from wine becomes an acquisition in his soul. He rules over his desires like a king adorned with a crown on his head/hair, about which the verse in our Torah portion says, “For the crown/nezer (cognate to nazir) of his G-d is on his head.

A nazir is also prohibited from becoming impure by contact with the dead, because he is in the grasp of eternal life. The nazir is empowered with internal joy and distances himself from death, which involves sadness and mourning. This is the process of overcoming an addiction to wine (or any other substance or behavior): A person feels inner happiness and does not need wine to make him feel superficially happy. Beware of the enticement of a superficial “happiness trip”, which necessarily ends with ever-growing frustration and darkness. Get hooked on the joy of having a pure soul, scaling the heights of your ever-growing connection to G-d.

Naso: Thursday: Intellect or Heart?

“And the first to bring his offering on the first day was Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Judah”. Just as the tribe of Judah marches at the head of the entire encampment of Israel, so the prince of the tribe is the first to bring his offering at the dedication of the Tabernacle. Judah is the tribe of the kings of Israel and the king leads the nation, blazing the trail like Nachshon.

Immediately after Judah comes the tribe of Yissachar: “On the second day, Netanel ben Tzu’ar, the prince of Yissachar, brought his offering”. Yissachar is considered the wisest of the tribes: “And from the sons of Yissachar, knowers of understanding of the times, to know what Israel should do.” Moreover, our Sages say that Netanel ben Tzu’ar was the person who advised the princes to bring their offerings for the dedication of the Tabernacle. If so, why wasn’t Yissachar the first tribe to bring its offering? Shouldn’t wisdom lead the way?

Judah is the heart and Yissachar is the brain. True, “the intellect must rule the heart”, and thus, Judah needs Yissachar at his side to give him good advice and insights (“understanding of the times”). But on an inner level, there is something about the heart that is stronger than the brain. “The inner dimension of the heart rules the brain”. It is specifically Judah’s inner feelings and courage of the heart that are worthy of ruling and leading the Nation of Israel, like Nachshon ben Aminadav, who followed the inner dimension of his heart to volunteer (l’hitnadev, cognate to Aminadav) to lead Israel.

Naso: Friday: Internally Unique, External Conformist

Each of the twelve princes brought exactly the same offering. When the Torah is read in the synagogue, the worshippers already know how to hum along with the Torah reader when he reads, “His offering, a silver bowl, one thirty and one hundred its weight.”

Each of the princes had special intentions while bringing his offering. The Midrash Rabbah lengthily explains how the offerings of each prince allude to the characteristics and events particular to his tribe. Nonetheless, the external action is exactly the same.

In Chassidut there is a Yiddish expression, ‘on blitus’, which means ‘not to stand out’. A true, inner-oriented person does not seek to stand out or to be out of the ordinary. He has no problem dressing like everyone else, conforming to the outward appearance of the society in which he lives. He doesn’t need external conduct that will be colored in his specific hue in order to express himself. From the outside, he can look like anyone else on the “production line”. Inside, he has a rich, unique personality, full of   self-expression, but with no external trappings to make him stand out.

Naso: Shabbat: Speaking with Himself

“And when Moses would come to the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, and he would hear the voice speaking (midaber) to him from above the kaporet on the Ark of Testimony, from between the two kruvim, and he would speak to Him. Rashi explains the unusual verb, midaber, as an action that reflects back on itself and does not reflect out to others. This is a form of speech that honors Heaven, meaning that G-d would be speaking to Himself, and Moses would simply hear the speech as it was uttered.

We can understand this as G-d not speaking to Moses in an intentional manner, with an internal desire to influence, but rather as a teacher learning a Torah topic out loud and as a result, somebody else hears him.

But the inner meaning is just the opposite. Moses secludes himself with G-d on a level at which he is not considered someone who must be spoken to. G-d speaks with Himself, and Moses is already there, one essence with Him.

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