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Drash on Naso 2023

Rabbi Aviva Kipen

Progressive Judaism Victoria

After the midbar wilderness experience that culminates in collective surprise, the earth-shaking and fearsome experience we recently celebrated with Shavuot, Naso continues the processes begun in Parashat B’midbar. Instructions for the Mishkan Tabernacle have been given. Arrangement of the clans on the four sides of the community’s central focus have been cemented. Logistical work of setting the participants of the Exodus into a working structure are in place and as we approach Naso, the Yom Tov revelation experience dims with each passing week. But wait, there is a surprise in store …

Naso returns us to the utterly earthly tasks of taking a census. Hmm….. No mobile phone apps, no data bases …. So what happened to the data collected in the earlier census (Plaut p899)? That census was taken  “On the first day of the second month in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt” (Num 1:1). Why was that information not sufficient? Was there a need to re-appreciate the human resources so that the work of the Mishkan could have efficient staffing rosters? Are security realities forcing the count?

The chronological cycle of Torah – after the lofty reencounter with revelation for Shavuot – takes us back to the gritty, everyday task list of managing the community (eruptions; defilements; restitution after admissions of guilt; the questionable ritual of the Bitter Waters for the woman who has been “lain with” by not for the “one having lain with”; the vows of a Nazirite). Do these inflict a drop in ‘spiritual atmospheric pressure’? How wonderful it was on Chag Shavuot to be reignited in our fervour for God, for the high ideals for which the 10 Commandments stand. How exciting to have blessed our children and watched them carry their toy sifrei torah around the congregations, receiving affirmation from everyone because they are our future. What do we do with that ardour when confronted with the ‘down and dirty’ reality of human behaviour in the return to the weekly portions? Two Shabbatot since festive season with its good company, good food and deep reflection requires intention kavanah as we go on with the ordinary, the mundane, the routine. The intention is regularly provided by Shabbat’s kedushah. Shabbat’s sacred opportunity is with us every week.

Naso is the perfect example. Just as the worldly tasks are detailed and the distinctive inner clan of the self-proclaimed  Nazirites identified (Num6:1-21) for their additional obligations, the demands of being Bnei Yisrael remind us of our endless to-do-list. We will never finish it. We don’t finish: we just take each moment, hour, day, week and month to assemble the cycles of our lives, shaped by seasonal tasks and the sustained by rest on Shabbat.

Naso affirms that ongoing list.  Then, without preamble, the script for an endless renewal of energy arrives. It leaps out of the list of obligations, startling us in its placement within the parasha. Aharon and his sons (and now the rabbis) bless the people. We anticipate that blessing on chagim, we offer it to newborns and to beit mitzvah students, to families, to our leaders. Naso returns us to the hum-drum grind, just the hard work of life. That’s the blessing. May we be blessed to continue to meet the day-to-day demands that make us worthy, to help others who are in need of help, then to reap the blessing of our labour and the benefit it brings to us and those around us. Thus, God tells Moshe, the Levi’im  will “link my name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Num 6:27) May those who bless us and we who are blessed continue to feel that link in the ordinary time of our lives each day, so that we are skilled at experiencing it on Shabbat and the other high points in the yearly calendar cycle.

[1] and in those communities that retain the Cohn, Levi, Yisra’el distinctions the acknowledged Levites

2 Beit Mitzvah – a non-gendered label for the 13th birthday life stage

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