- A Census of the Gershon and Merari Families of Levites
- Ritually Impure Persons, and Restitution
- The Sotah Ritual
- Laws of the Nazir
- Birkat Kohanim
- The Twelve Inaugural Korbanot of the Nesiim
- Haftarah Summary:
Parashat Naso covers a number of areas of the law, including becoming tameh (ritually impure) and tahor (ritually pure), the sotah ordeal for a woman suspected of adultery, and the laws of the nazir (one who takes a vow of abstention). It also includes Birkat Kohanim, the special blessing of the priests, and inaugural korbanot (sacrifices) for the Mishkan.
The previous parsha, Bamidbar, begins with a census of all Bnei Yisrael and leaves off with a census of the Levites, in which the three major clans are detailed: Kehat, Gershon, and Merari. A census of all firstborns is also taken. After that, a census specifically of the Kehati clan is taken, and their specific duties with regards to the Mishkan are detailed. Naso picks up with censes of the remaining two families of Levites.
A Census of the Gershon and Merari Families of Levites
After the census specifically of the Kehati family of the Levites, Moshe is commanded to also take a census of the Gershoni family. Again, males between 30 and 50 are counted, and their specific duties in the service of the Mishkan and its transport are detailed. The total comes to 2,630. The same is done for the Merari family of Levites, whose total is 3,200. The total of all Levites of service age (30-50) comes to 8,580.
Ritually Impure Persons, and Restitution
Several categories of persons must be removed (temporarily) from the camp: anyone, whether male or female, who is tzaruah (has Tzaraat, a physical-spiritual skin ailment often translated as leprosy); anyone who is a zav (has a discharge); and anyone who has become ritually impure as a result of contact with a corpose (tameh la-nafesh).
In addition, when a man or woman commits a crime, they must confess and make monetary restitution is the amount of the principal amount of the loss plus one-fifth of the value of the principal. If their is no next of kin, the restitution amount is dedicated to G-d, along with the ram of kippurim (expiation).
Kohanim receive consecrated donations of the people (kodshei Yisrael) and each keeps that which has been given to him.
The Sotah Ritual
The Mikra now turns to the sotah ritual, undergone by a married woman suspected by her husband of adultry, the subject of Masechet Sotah. The man brings his wife to the kohen, along with a Minchat Kenaot, a meal offering of jealousy consisting of one-tenth of an efah of plain barley flour. The kohen mixes the earth on the floor of the Mishkan into water, called bitter waters (mei ha-marim). The woman stands before the kohen and he bares her head. She holds the barley Minchat Kenaot in her hands, while the kohen holds the bitter waters. The kohen then admonishes the woman that if she is innocent, the bitter waters will have no effect on her, but if she is guilty, the waters will affect her. The kohen writes down the curses of the guilty woman on a piece of paper and rub it off into the bitter waters, which the woman then drinks. The kohen takes the barley offering from her and elevates it, offering it on the Mizbeach. If the woman’s belly distends and thigh sags, she is presumed guilty.
Laws of the Nazir
Next are given the laws of nazirut, or committing to a vow of asceticism (self-denial of some kind). The laws apply to men and women alike. The nazir may not eat any products of the vine or drink any intoxicating beverages, including wine; no razor may touch the nazir‘s head; he must keep away from corpses, even those of first-degree relations; and the nazir is thus consecrated to Gd.
If a person dies near a nazir, this causes their hair to become tameh. The nazir then shaves their hair on the seventh day and becomes tahor. On the 8th day, the nazir brings two turtledoves or pigeons as a korban, one as Chatat (sin offering) and one as Olah (burnt offering). This effects a re-consecration of the nazir‘s head and rededicates them as a nazir. However, he must also bring a lamb as an Asham (guilt offering) and the previous period of nazirut is invalidated.
When a nazir completes their term of nazirut, there is a ritual to mark the transition: they bring korbanot, a ram in its first year as an Olah and one ram as Shelamim (peace or well-being offering), along with a meal offering and libations, including a basket (sal) of unleavened loaves (matzot) of fine flour (solet) with oil mixed in (belulot ba-shemen) and unleavened wafers (rekikei matzot) spread with oil (meshuchim ba-shamen).
After these are offered by the kohen, the nazir shaves their consecrated hair. The kohen then places the shoulder of the ram after it has been boiled (beshelah), one matzah and one rekik matzah on the hands of the nazir. These are elevated and becomes gifts to the kohen (along with other parts of the korbanot), and the former nazir may drink wine.
If a nazir, in accordance with their means, vows more than this, they are bound to provide it.
G-d tells Moshe to tell Aharon that he must bless the people with the following words, which make up Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing):
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ ה’ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ יָאֵ֨ר ה’ ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃ יִשָּׂ֨א ה’ ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃
May Hashem bless you and keep you; may Hashem shine His face upon you and guide you; may Hashem lift up His countenance to you and bring you peace.Bamidbar 6:24-26
This blessing is one of the earliest Hebrew texts attested. The Ketef Himmon silver scrolls, tiny amulets found near Yerushalayim and unfurled with the aid of technology, date from the late seventh or early sixth century. In Paleo-Hebrew (Ktav Ivrit, as opposed to Ktav Ashurit that we currently use to write Hebrew), they clearly include Birkat Kohanim.
The Twelve Inaugural Korbanot of the Nesiim
After Moshe finishes setting up the Mishkan and anoints it and its instruments, the nesiim (heads of the tribes) bring inaugural korbanot to the Mishkan. These are the same nesiim that assisted with the census and are named in the previous parsha. They bring a cart and an ox per tribe, twelve in total.1 These are divided (in differing proprotions) among the two of the families of Levi’im, Gershon and Merari, while Kehat does not receive any, since they are already in charge of the most sacred of the Mishkan’s parts. The nesiim also bring a korban for Chanukat ha-Mizbeach, the inauguration of the altar.
The heads of tribes each bring their offerings on twelve consecutive days, in the following order: Yehudah, Issachar, Zevulun, Reuven, Shim’on, Gad, Efraim, Menashe, Binyamin, Dan, Asher, and Naftali. The particular offering brought by each is one silver bowl (kaarat kesef) weighing 130 shekels, one silver basin (mizrak kesef) of 70 shekels, both filled with a Mincha offering inside of solet mixed with oil; one gold ladle (kaf zahav) of 10 shekels full of incense (ketoret); for Olah, one bull, one ram, and one lamb in its first year; for Chatat, a goat; for Shelamim, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five lambs in their first year. The totals are then given for all the offerings.
Lastly, the Mikra says that Moshe would hear the voice of G-d above the kaporet (covering) that is on the Ark (Aron ha-Edut) between the two Keruvim (cherubim).
The haftarah tells the dramatic story of Shimshon’s birth, as foretold by an angel who appears to his mother. Shimshon’s father, Manoach from the tribe of Dan, and his mother, whose name we are not told, are unable to have children, but the angel, who first appears only to Shimshon’s mother, tells her that she will soon have a child. The child must be a nazir to G-d from the womb, meaning that the mother is not to consume any products of the vine, especially intoxicating wine, or anything that is tameh (ritually impure, or not kosher) and no razor is ever to touch Shimshon’s head. (The nazirite pledge serves as the anchor between the parsha and the haftarah, and it’s repeated several times by the angel over the course of the story.) At first, Shimshon’s mother does not recognize the messenger as an angel, and when the angel reappears in view of Manoach, neither does he. However, this becomes clear to them when the angel ascends in the flames of the korban (sacrifice) offered by Manoach. Shimshon is born to them and is blessed.