Naso – “Lift Up”

Today’s Torah portion is entitled Naso. The verb can be translated to lift, to take or to carry. For the purposes of this parasha its primary meaning is to “take”, derived from the opening verses where the Lord instructs Moses to take or naso a census. Our parasha covers Numbers 4:21-7:89.

To summarize, the parasha covers the following subjects: the memorial gifts for the Tabernacle from the princes of the 12 tribes, the sotah, or a wife suspected of adultery with no witnesses, the Nazarite Vow and the Priestly Blessing. It also gives instructions for purifying the camp and consecrating the Tabernacle.

The reading begins with Moses being instructed by God to conduct a census of the men who were between the ages of 30-50 years-old from the Levitical families of Gershon and Merari, along with the Kohathites, in order to perform service in the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting.

I noticed that the minimum age was thirty, which is the same age at which Yeshua began His ministry. I submit that we should be spiritually mature and ready to serve the Lord by the time we reach the age of thirty.  That’s not to say that you can’t start at an earlier age, or even at a later stage of life. But it would seem that by Yeshua’s example, thirty is the perfect age for full time service to the Lord.

The men from Gershon were charged with the care of the outer Tabernacle including components such as the Tent and its covering, the screens, doors and hangings. They were to transport them from place to place and then assist with setting up and breaking down the tent of meeting according to the instructions that God had given them.

When the Israelis left Egypt, they left with an abundance of gold, jewels and other valuables. Adonai had blessed the children of Israel richly through the Egyptians. But He didn’t really bless them just so that they could have a lot of stuff. He wanted them to use these resources to serve a much greater purpose; that purpose being the worship of the Creator of the Universe.

It reminds me that when we get to Heaven, we will be rewarded with crowns for our faithfulness during our stay here on Earth. But these crowns will not be given to us as a fashion statement or to compare who has the greatest collection of crowns; instead we are going to place these crowns at the feet of Messiah Yeshua in worship. In a sense, the children of Israel being richly rewarded for their years of hard and bitter labor, and then joyfully dedicating their riches to the worship of God foreshadows this future event.

The Tabernacle was the most important article that the Israelis carried with them, because this was the very place that Adonai chose to personally meet with them. He would manifest His presence there within the Tent of Meeting. How wonderful is the Lord our God, who has made it possible through Messiah Yeshua for the Tent of meeting to now be within our very being; and that at the deepest and most personal level we can enjoy friendship and communion with the Everlasting God?

Chapter 5 continues with what’s called the sotah, or a situation when a wife is suspected by her husband of being unfaithful, but there are no witnesses. These verses outline a solemn and unusual legal procedure that a woman must undergo to establish her guilt or innocence. Unlike our modern American court system, you were not presumed innocent until proven guilty; and unlike our modern American culture, holiness mattered in Israel, and adultery was considered a very serious offense.

The woman was to drink what Scripture refers to as ‘holy water’ while accepting a solemn and earnest appeal from the high priest, stating that if, in fact, she was guilty, the potion would cause her grim and visible injury. This very unusual ritual was intended to remove suspicion of marital unfaithfulness from the midst of Israel. At the same time, it was designed to provide significant protection to the innocent wife in case of untrue allegations on the part of the husband.

The wisdom of this ceremony was that it took judgment out of the hands of a possibly unreasonable and jealous husband, or the hands of an angry, murderous mob (as frequently happens in Islamic countries), or even a potentially corrupt judge, and put her fate squarely in the hands of the just and wise God. In fact, by means of this procedure the wife is placed in a very direct and intimate relationship with the One True God, who alone would have the final word.

Chapter 6 begins by presenting the laws of the Nazirite, an individual who has, by means of a voluntary vow, taken on a special sacred status. For the period of this vow, the Nazirite could not have contact with any dead body, not even that of his parents; nor was he permitted to consume any product of the vine; such as wine or grapes, or even grape juice, nor were they allowed to cut their hair.

These restrictions are similar to those of the kohanim, the priests. But, in fact, the Nazirite’s restrictions were even greater than those of the priests. For example, a priest was permitted contact with the dead if it concerned his immediate family. Only the High Priest shared the Nazirite’s absolute prohibition regarding contact with the dead.

Furthermore, while priests were prohibited from drinking alcohol while “on duty,” in the sanctuary, it was permitted at other times, and they definitely were not forbidden to consume other grape products. Not so the Nazirite. Priests were allowed to trim their hair. But for the period of the vow, the Nazirite would not be permitted to do so.

In these various ways, the Nazirite’s sanctity surpassed even that of the High Priest.

It would behoove us as believers in Messiah Yeshua to take note of Israel’s set-apart status, and individuals within that nation that God set apart to accomplish His purposes. The modern world tries to blur the distinction between the common and the sacred, but the Everlasting God has not changed. There are holy things, and we should respect that. We may not always understand the reasons for His choices, but we can be confident of His supreme wisdom.

In the example of the Nazirite, we have a beautiful picture of sacred status – with increased responsibility – entered into voluntarily by any man or woman who desired to draw nearer to the Lord, and who was willing to accept the terms of this particular challenge. Such volunteerism in accepting responsibility for kedushah, or holiness, is a valuable model for our age, when all the required aspects of worship seem to have faded and the concept of personal responsibility and following through on one’s commitments is rapidly disappearing.

I want to conclude with Numbers 6:22-27 which describes the Aaronic blessing, a blessing that has been voiced countless times across thousands of years.

May Adonai bless you, and keep you…

To ‘bless’ means to offer up something valuable or in abundance. Picture a beautiful fountain of water, giving life to all. When we connect the idea of a blessing to a pool or fountain, we may come to realize that God is the loving, overflowing, abundant source of life and fullness. For example, the prophet Jeremiah rebuked the Jewish people for having abandoned God, who described Himself as Makor Mayim Chayim – “The Fountain of Living Waters”.

The Hebrew word for “keep” is shamar which literally means “to guard or watch over”. A related word is shamiyr which means “briar”. When a shepherd was out in the wilderness with his flock, he would sometimes construct a makeshift corral out of thorns and briar bushes to help protect the sheep from predatory animals. This might be the origin of the expression we sometimes hear: a “hedge of protection”.

We might paraphrase the Aaronic Blessing in this way: “The Lord will offer you abundance and will surround you with protection. The Lord will illuminate the wholeness of His being toward you, bringing order to your life, and He will beautify you. The Lord will lift up His presence and have regard for you, and He will set in place all you need to be whole and complete.”

Many people, even some Christians, mistakenly believe that the “God of the Old Testament” was a vengeful, angry, uncaring God. But this blessing contained in the midst of the Torah shows how wrong this view is. On the contrary, Adonai’s kind intentions and love towards His creation is made obvious; He desires that each one of us be whole and complete in Him. I trust that each one of you will discover that wholeness and completeness in our Lord and Redeemer, Yeshua the Messiah.