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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:21-7:89
Haftorah – Judges 13:2-25
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Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion Naso, is the longest single reading of the year, with 176 verses in the Parsha. Coincidentally (and I don’t believe in coincidences), Psalm 119, is the longest Parsha in the Book of Psalms and also contains 176 verses. Furthermore, Baba Batra, the largest tractate of the Talmud contains 176 pages.
So what do they have in common other than their size? This Parsha is usually read the Shabbat after Shavu’ot – the festival that celebrates the giving of the Torah (that is not the case this year because it is a Jewish leap year). After receiving such a gift, we were overwhelmed with the immensity of its contents (both the written and oral traditions). Let us say that the measure of this immense size (176) repeats itself throughout our Torah tradition. By the way, the Gematriya or numerical value of the phrase Kimanhig HaGadol – the Great Ruler, an allegory to G-d Himself, is 176.
The news of the hour is the conflict between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. President Obama over the minimum requirements for a peace process to be effective. Obama’s recent declaration that Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders as a starting point in the peace process startled not only Jews world over, but many Americans, Congressmen and the media. Social forums like Facebook were very active with opinions ranging from the extreme right to the most leftist, however, on the websites that I subscribed to, the overwhelming opinions related shock over Obama’s statement. How do we, who love the State of Israel and ultimately want real peace for all nations in the Middle East, react to the pressures of leadership that the Israeli government must bear?
First let us understand what peace is. Our Rabbi’s teach us that the B’nei Yisra’el – the Children of Israel – had totally assimilated into Egyptian society and were almost entirely devoured by Egyptian culture. It was only by the merit of three qualities that the Israelites were worthy of leaving Egypt: 1. Lo Shinu Sh’mom – they didn’t change their names; 2. Lo Shinu Loshonam, – they didn’t change their language; and 3. V’Lo Shinu Bigdeihem – and they didn’t change their dress. These three aspects of national culture – names, language and dress, manifest the character of the nation.
The culture of our nation is present in our Hebrew language (that is why I keep using Hebrew words in these articles). The definition of “Peace” in English (Webster) is – “the freedom from disturbance, war or hostility”. In other words, the absence of aggressive behavior. But in Hebrew, the word “Shalom” means something else entirely, it means “harmony, completeness, and well-being.” A very big difference.
In the secular culture, true feelings between parties are irrelevant. What is relevant is that aggressive behavior is not displayed. For example, if I don’t like a person but do not behave aggressively towards that person then I am acting in a peaceful manner.
In Jewish culture, inner feelings are extremely relevant. If one does not display one’s true aggressive disposition, that may be virtuous, but it is not an act of peace. Peace is a harmonious relationship between people or nations. Not acting aggressively falls very short of “peace.”
To achieve this true peace, we must do two things: first we must lend our shoulders to our Israeli leadership, we must become part of the process regardless of where we reside; second, we must “pray” for peace, real peace. One that combines physical and spiritual prosperity into a greater goodness – “Shalom” – a sense of harmony, contentment and wholesomeness for both sides of the dispute.
In our Torah portion, we find the key to both these objectives. The Torah says, “V’liVnei Kehat Lo Natan (Agalot)…B’Katef YiSa’u – And to the Children of Kehat, He did not give [wagons]…on their shoulders they shall carry it [the golden Ark].” The phrase B’Katef YiSa’u – on the shoulder they shall carry – is grammatically vague. It should be translated as – it shall be carried on the shoulder.
The duty of the B’nei Kehat – the children of Kehat (a family of Levities descended from Kehat, one of the three sons of Levi) was that they were to carry the Holy Ark during the B’nei Yisra’el’s journeys in the desert. The Ark was a large case made entirely of gold which contained the two square sapphire tablets upon which were inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Rabbi David Feinstein points out that with its golden castings, the golden cover and the two golden “Cherubim” on top, it is estimated that the entire configuration weighed about four tons. Obviously, if only four Kehatites were able to carry it without the aid of wagons, they must have had a substantial measure of Divine assistance.
This was one of the many daily miracles that occurred before the Children of Israel in the desert. To have seen these four men, being carried by the burden upon their shoulders, must have been a wondrous sight.
The weight on the shoulders of Benyamin Netanyahu is awesome. And we the Jewish nation must lend the strength of our shoulders to his. Netanyahu claims that the peace process will continue but with certain deviations. How he will manage to “carry” this burden is an overwhelming thought. Let us hope and pray that like the B’nei Kehat with our support he too will be carried by his burden and HaShem’s Divine assistance.
Our second objective is to achieve Shalom. This too, is revealed in our Parsha, with the three fold blessing, given by the Priests to the B’nei Yisra’el – the Children of Israel. They are; “YeVarchecha HaShem ViShmerecha – May HaShem bless you and safeguard you. Ya’er HaShem Panav Eilecha ViChuneka – May HaShem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. Yisa HaShem Panav Eilecha V’yaSeim L’Chah Shalom – May HaShem lift His countenance towards you and establish for you Shalom – Peace” BaMidbar (Numbers) 6:23-27.
The first blessing relates to material affluence. The second relates to spiritual well-being. The third blends the two and brings them to a new plane, Shalom – harmony/peace. As I said before, let us hope and pray that the peace that all parties will seek, will be one that combines physical and spiritual prosperity, which will manifest into a blessing of harmony, contentment and wholesomeness and that through this, all parties will achieve peace.
So this Parsha, which is the longest in the entire Torah consisting of 176 verses, is really an allusion to HaManhig HaGadol – the Great Ruler. In this time of great tension and muscle flexing between friends and foes, we must always remember that the Manhig HaGadol – the Great Ruler controls the world and that ultimately His Will, will be done. As the prophet said: “Not by power, nor by might, by My spirit, says HaShem” (Zachariah 4:6).
Yehi Shalom – Let there be “Shalom.”