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Parashat Naso

Parashat Naso is the thirty-fifth weekly portion in the Torah and the second in the Book of Numbers (4:21-7:89). It is also the longest portion in the Torah, at 176 verses. Interestingly, the longest chapter in Scripture (Psalm 119) and the longest tractate in the Talmud (Bava Batra) are 176 verses and 176 folios long, respectively.

This portion presents something of a conundrum. Granted, the first section (4:21-5:4) continues the theme of setting up the camp, by specifying the numbers and assignments of able-bodied Levites, as well as which conditions of ritual impurity require one to leave the camp. However, the next topics seem to be “leftovers” from the Book of Leviticus: details of the guilt-offering for financial crimes, the ceremony of the suspected adulteress (sota), the laws of the Nazirite, the priests’ blessing — shouldn’t they be in Leviticus, “the Torah of the Priests”?

Most confounding is Chapter 7, the longest chapter in the Torah, which deals with the dedication of the Altar. Its date indicates that it occurs a month before the events of Chapter 1! Why is the narrative going backwards?

This paradox underscores the danger of reading the Torah as a history book or a legal tome. The Torah uses both law and narrative to shape a spiritual message. In the case of Parashat Naso, it is what lies at the core of a Godly society, as epitomized by the Camp of Israel. What role does the Sanctuary play in daily life?

Thus, the Torah revisits the law of the guilt-offering to add that if the victim of a financial crime has no redeemer, i.e. no kinsman, the priest assumes that role. In the case of suspected adultery, it is the role of the priest to restore domestic tranquility between husband and wife. The Nazirite is a man or woman who vows to live a life of priestly abstemiousness, avoiding impurity, wine or brandy — but to demonstrate that this a temporary, voluntary status, Nazirites grow out their hair, unlike the priests who must always keep their hair trimmed. The priests’ blessing represents the ideal relationship, with the priests serving as the conduit for God’s beneficence to the people.

Finally, we detail the offerings of the tribal princes. While Chapter 1 introduces them as military and political leaders, Chapter 7 shows that they are spiritual leaders as well. Pragmatism demands that one prince come first and one bring up the rear, but the fact that their offerings are identical demonstrates that the member of every tribe is equal in the eyes of God.


The portion from the Prophets is the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Judges, detailing the origin of Samson. Like the Nazirite in the Torah portion, Samson must not cut his hair, drink wine or become ritually impure. However, his status is not self-imposed by a vow he takes, but rather decreed by Heaven before he is even born. This unique position allows him to begin the process of saving Israel from the Philistines.

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