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Parashat Nasso

June 2, 2023
13 Sivan 5783
Numbers 4:21 - 7:89

Dear Friends,

We completed another year of the Tehillah Hebrew School and once more, as is true every year, our children were our teachers. We gave them the following assignment that was completed over a number of sessions: You are setting up a new community. What five qualities would you like to see? What five qualities would be detrimental to this new community? Each child created their list separately. When we came together for our last class, we asked them to categorize their responses into five positive and five negative groups. They did this task collaboratively.

Here is what emerged.

Positive Values: 

  • Group 1: Include everyone, have a justice system with checks and balances, be nice to other people, spend time with other people, make sure everyone is welcome, be kind to each other, give respect to others, include everyone
  • Group 2: Listen to what people have to say, respect everyone (their thoughts and words), respect the space and people around you, listen to what people have to say, be someone’s friend instead of their enemy, have a sense of responsibility toward one another, democracy
  • Group 3: Be honest, be yourself, trust each other, tell the truth, be truthful and behave in ways you actually believe in, human rights
  • Group 4: Help others, especially if they need help, helping your community, do things to help the environment, contribute to things (like projects), share what you can
  • Group 5: Interact with others, share your thoughts and ideas with others

Before I continue with the things to avoid in a community, I invite you to join me in looking at this week’s Torah portion Naso - elevate (Numbers 4:21 - 7:89). At first glance, it may seem a somewhat disjointed Torah portion, jumping from one thing to the next. But if looked upon through the lens of what creates a working sustainable community, the elements work together in a similar fashion to the elements that our children came to value. The community that is being established seeks to operate in a fashion that is different from those surrounding it. Most other societies that existed then were hierarchical. Although the Israelites did not always succeed, the goal was to create something different. Underpinning it was the understanding that we humans suffer from envy and if we do not have a place to put that envy, it could turn into hate, which can lead to tragic consequences.

The Torah portion addresses this issue in three distinct fashions as there are three issues at play. First. there was the issue that Aaron’s family were to be the priests. What about the rest of the tribe of Levi? We soon read that each of the clans within the tribe were to be assigned roles in the care and transport of the ritual objects as well the Tent of Meeting itself. We all know that being valued for what we can contribute makes a difference.

Then there was the question of how to take care of those who wanted to aspire to higher level of holiness -- the Nazarite. Interestingly, it seems that few if any adhered to the Nazarite restrictions forever (not drinking the fruit of the vine, cutting ones hair or coming into contact with the dead). But it did provide a pathway for those who needed to remove themselves from the everyday, at least for a while.

 Chapter 7 of this Torah portion is incredibly repetitive and somewhat boring, but very important. It highlights each of the tribes by itemizing the offerings of each tribe as the altar is dedicated. Each tribe's offering is identical; it could easily have been summarized. But what the Torah gives us here is the understanding of how important it is to be seen and heard. Our children did not study this text, but they knew this to be true.

They also knew what the destructive elements were for any society. You will see even more repetition here, but it makes a strong point. These are the things that they identified not to do in a community.

Negative Values

  • Group 1. Do not make all of the decisions, do not exclude others, do not have one person make all of the decisions (do not allow for corruption or have laws that promote corruption), no discriminatory laws, do not ignore people, do not be selfish (you should contribute to the needs of the community), do not put yourself first (no repressive laws), do not try to be better than others
  • Group 2. Do not create chaos, do not break rules, do not steal, do not have laws that promote crime, do not break the law
  • Group 3. Do not lie, do not misrepresent the facts to the people, do not lie, do not lie to people
  • Group 4. Do not litter, do not hurt the environment
  • Group 5. Do not insult each other, Do not put yourself first, do not talk over people, do not make fun of people, do not disrespect others, do not manipulate others, do not take advantage of others


Once more, our children served as our teachers. Wendy Levinson and I are so grateful for the opportunity to learn from them. This Torah portion also contains the priestly blessing and this is our wish for you and those you love as we enter this Shabbat.

May God bless you and keep you.
May the light of God’s Face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May God’s Face be lifted upon you and grant you peace.

(Numbers 6:22-26)

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Linda Shriner Cahn

Tue, October 3 2023 18 Tishrei 5784