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Drash on Naso 2024

Rabbi Dr Orna Triguboff

Emanuel Synagogue

The Festival of Shavuot and Parashat Naso

Why have you raised me just to cast me down? This is a question posed by our sages and feels particularly relevant to how many Jews feel, since October 7th, with over 120 hostages still being held captive by Hamas.

The name of this week’s Torah reading is Naso, meaning to be ‘counted’ and also meaning ‘to be lifted’. In this week’s reading naso refers to Levites being counted and elevated to a position of helping with the Sanctuary. A derivative of the term is also used in the third priestly blessing with the words: “May God’s Presence be lifted towards you and bring you peace.

The idea of being lifted and then being let down like a lead balloon is familiar and exhausting, and connecting with Torah and the festival of Shavuot may give us some answers.

In Naso, we learn how the priests were instructed to bless the people. The words used thousands of years ago, are the same used today to bless each other, whether it be: parents blessing their children on a Friday night (or before going to sleep), rabbis blessing couples at weddings, or prayer leaders blessing the community during the amidah.

The three ancient priestly belssings are:
May God bless and protect you.
May God’s light shine on you and bring you favour.
May God’s Presence be lifted towards you and bring you peace.

These words have been repeated for thousands of years and as we continue in this tradition we build on the power of ritual and shared customs.

In Jewish mysticism it is considered that every time we bless someone with these words, we draw spiritual light into the world which enhances goodness and peace in the world.

From a psychological perspective giving people blessings, can be a way to create an atmosphere of positivity and raise the level of wellbeing of those who give and receive blessings. You might want to experiment adding this powerful ritual to your life in a structured way, and see what effect it has.

Receiving spiritual light is also a theme of Shavuot. It is the day on which we commemorate the Children of Israel receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, and just as on Pesach we are invited to reflect on how the Exodus from slavery to freedom is relevant to us today, on Shavuot we are invited to contemplate how receiving the ten commandments can be relevant to us in our lives today. We are even encouraged to experience receiving Torah.

The Ger Rebbe from the 19th century builds on legends that state that the Children of Israel were raised to a high level of inspiration when the Torah was given, and that each year on Shavuot there is a ‘time window’ during which each of us can access high levels of inspiration and understanding.

The Zhitomir Rebbe added another layer of wisdom, teaching that when the Children of Israel received the Torah, they could see the true nature of each person, and saw a letter aleph on each other’s faces – the aleph being made up of a long line and two short lines, the long line representing the nose and the shorter lines, the two eyes. More importantly, the aleph, being the first letter, symbolizes the idea of unity and oneness. The essence of receiving Torah was, and is, the ability to see the light of the aleph in the face of each person.  When we can do that, they were in a true state of divine awareness, and that is the secret of Shavuot.

May we give and receive many blessings to each other, may the soldiers be successful and may the hostages be safe and returned as soon as possible,

Find more Parashat Hashavua