Does God Speak?

Does God Speak?

Jun 10, 2022 By Benjamin D. Sommer | Commentary | Naso

The final verse of Parashat Naso is easy to miss. It comes after a long passage that describes the gifts the leader of each tribe presented at the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting (both names are used for the structure) in the wilderness. Twelve times we read six verses listing the exact same set of items donated from each tribe. The substantial amount of repetition may lead readers to lose some focus as they move through the passage. But Numbers 7:89, the verse that comes right after those twelve sets of six verses, is highly significant. It provides crucial information about the nature of revelation as understood by the kohanim (Priests) who wrote this section of the Torah.

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Parenting Lessons from the Priests

Parenting Lessons from the Priests

May 21, 2021 By Abigail Uhrman | Commentary | Naso

It is a beautiful moment in this week’s parashah: God asks Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons to bless B’nei Yisrael on God’s behalf. Not only is the sentiment and poetry of the priestly blessing stirring in and of itself, but given its use in contemporary religious life, it carries even further resonance. In Jewish households across the world, parents offer this blessing to their children as part of their Friday night ritual. In my own experience, I have vivid memories of my grandparents and parents blessing me and my sisters with these words, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to do the same for my children each Shabbat. Those few precious moments—where my husband and I get to hold each of our kids, whisper these ancient verses, and kiss them “Shabbat shalom”—have become a sacred occasion in our home. I’ve repeated these phrases now over many weeks and years and, at times, with little thought to the meaning behind the words. A closer reading of the text, though, has affirmed for me some essential parenting lessons.

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The Torah of Large-Scale Projects

The Torah of Large-Scale Projects

Jun 5, 2020 By Ashira Konigsburg | Commentary | Naso

Naso opens up with a census of the Levites, who will be responsible for transporting parts of the Mishkan. Num. 4:3 specifies that those who will be engaged in this work are to be between the ages of 30 and 50 and fit for service when the Mishkan is operating.

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How We Build Character

How We Build Character

Jun 14, 2019 By Marjorie Lehman | Commentary | Naso

Parashat Naso begins with the appointment of the Levite families of Gershon and Merari to take care of the Mishkan, the Israelites’ portable sanctuary in the desert. While Aaron and his family were given the responsibility of overseeing the actual service of God in the Mishkan, the descendants of Gershon and Merari were defined as mere helpers, charged with the role of caring for the structure of the Mishkan, its cloths, its equipment, its posts and their sockets, its planks, pegs, and furnishings.

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Going to the Head of the Prayer Line

Going to the Head of the Prayer Line

May 25, 2018 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Naso

Sharp elbows at shul extend beyond the kiddush table line and back into the sanctuary. Prayer—or giving honor to God—can be a competitive business. There are lots of reasons why this is so, and some of them even have to do with loving God. But showing off how we love God can get us into trouble.

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What Would You Pack?

What Would You Pack?

Jun 2, 2017 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Naso

1 pair of pants, 1 shirt, 1 pair of shoes and 1 pair of socks
Shampoo and hair gel, toothbrush and toothpaste, face whitening cream
Comb, nail clipper
Bandages
100 U.S. dollars
130 Turkish liras
Smart phone and back-up cell phone
SIM cards for Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey

—contents of Iqbal’s backpack on arriving in Lesbos, Greece (emphasis added)

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The Problem with Priests

The Problem with Priests

Jun 2, 2017 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Naso

Modern Judaism has a problem with the priesthood. The notion of hereditary holiness—that one segment of the Jewish people is set apart from others, given ceremonial privileges, and invited to bless the people—conflicts with our egalitarian ethos. The strange rituals of the priests, especially when they are invited to raise their hands in blessing the people, feel magical and irrational. For these reasons, many non-Orthodox communities have diminished or even eliminated the priestly privileges such as reserving the first aliyot for kohanim and Levi’im.

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Answer Me

Answer Me

Jun 17, 2016 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Naso

In a plaintive and anxious song by Israeli singer Ehud Banai called “Aneh Li” (“Answer Me”), the challenge of communicating with God is rendered as an increasingly panicked monologue by a man waiting for a voice he’s sure is on the other end of the phone line:

You’re breaking up—there’s background noise—it’s like the ocean.
I guess there’s no reception here—you’ve disappeared.
I’m still waiting on the line for my turn.
I’m holding the connection, in case you return . . .
Are you still with me?
Answer me.

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Light Shine Through

Light Shine Through

Jun 17, 2016 By Danielle Upbin | Commentary | Naso

We are Hollow Bamboo
Open up your heart and let the light shine through
Light shine, light shine through!
Light shine, light shine through

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From Duty to Community and Back

From Duty to Community and Back

May 29, 2015 By Nigel Savage | Commentary | Naso | Shavuot

Two weeks ago I was amongst a group discussing the nature of obligation in Jewish tradition and contemporary life. I played some role in convening the group because this is—for me—a central and often unaddressed paradox in the world we live in today. One can argue about the bounds of halakhah and about the nature and pace of its evolution. But it is hard to argue that we are not a people with a halakhic tradition. Halakhah is too engrained in Jewish tradition and in Jewish history to argue otherwise.

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Biblical Waterboarding

Biblical Waterboarding

May 29, 2015 By Raysh Weiss | Commentary | Naso

A representation of the sotah (suspected adulteress) ritual from this week’s parashah (Num. 5:11–31).

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The Blessing of Happiness

The Blessing of Happiness

May 30, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Naso

One of the centerpieces of Parashat Naso is the Priestly Blessing.

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Can the Center Hold?

Can the Center Hold?

May 30, 2014 By Marc Gary | Commentary | Naso

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
—William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Last week, The Jewish Theological Seminary presented an honorary degree to Philip Roth, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. The famous author must have received this recognition from an iconic Jewish institution with a certain measure of irony and satisfaction. After all, when his first book was published more than 50 years ago, an outraged American rabbi wrote to the Anti-Defamation League asking, “what is being done to silence that man?”

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Going to the Head of the Prayer Line

Going to the Head of the Prayer Line

May 14, 2013 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Naso

Sharp elbows at shul extend beyond the kiddush table line and back into the sanctuary. Prayer—or giving honor to God—can be a competitive business. There are lots of reasons why this is so, and some of them even have to do with loving God. But showing off how we love God can get us into trouble.

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The Importance of What We Give

The Importance of What We Give

May 14, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Naso

At the heart of Parashat Naso is a repetitive description of the offerings brought by the leaders of each of the tribes in honor of the anointing of the altar.

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Aging with Vigor

Aging with Vigor

Jun 2, 2012 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Naso

I have always been curious about Pirkei Avot’s laying out of particular life-stage milestones according to age. What are the different stages of life about? What is “supposed” to happen to us when? What can we expect as we grow up and (God willing) grow old? Is there a point at which we are “disqualified,” turned away as less useful than before for service to our community?

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Lifting Up Our Communities

Lifting Up Our Communities

Jun 2, 2012 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Naso

“Carrying capacity” might be a good explanation for our parashah’s title, Naso, which literally means, “lift up.” In these chapters God gives Moses precise orders for the leaders of the people—both the clergy and the tribal chiefs. It ends with a somewhat stultifying litany of the identical offerings of the chieftains. This portion lacks exciting narratives, and yet there is a sense of vast power embedded in its orderly universe.

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Sacred Schlepping

Sacred Schlepping

May 26, 2012 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Naso

Since making the transition from JTS student to JTS staff three years ago, I have regularly told my students and donors how a debt of gratitude to my alma mater fuels what I do now.

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Identities of Choice

Identities of Choice

Jul 2, 2011 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Naso

We live in an age in which we are all Jews by Choice. Whether born to Jewish parents or not, in 21st-century America our identities are a matter of our own selection.

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How We Build Character

How We Build Character

Jun 4, 2011 By Marjorie Lehman | Commentary | Naso

Parashat Naso begins with the appointment of the Levite families of Gershon and Merari to take care of the Mishkan, the Israelites’ portable sanctuary in the desert. While Aaron and his family were given the responsibility of overseeing the actual service of God in the Mishkan, the descendants of Gershon and Merari were defined as mere helpers, charged with the role of caring for the structure of the Mishkan, its cloths, its equipment, its posts and their sockets, its planks, pegs, and furnishings. I have always wondered—why did God divide up the care of the Mishkan in this way?

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