176 – is the number of the verses in this week’s portion, Naso, the longest in the Torah, same as the longest Psalm (chapter 119) and as the longest tractate in the Talmud (Bava Batra with 176 dapim, pages). Why so long? Some suggest that this reading, usually closest to Shavuot, and the Giving of the Torah, from either side of the holiday (before or after), so detailed and flowing with information, is like being near a fountainhead, with fresh water gushing all around.
What is said in these 176 verses?
The parasha opens with the orderly travel of the Children of Israel in the desert, parallel to the orderly creation, and ends on the day the mishkan is erected and dedicated, the tribes’ princes bring lavish sacrifices, and Moses hears “The Voice” speaking to him there (Numbers 7:89).
With such ‘wow’ “bookends”, we might wonder, what else is in this parasha? Surprisingly, we find here obscure topics as the removal from the camp of metzo’ra’im (Torah lepers, sort of), description of the zavim (people with “impure” bodily excretion) and other t’me’im (spiritually impure people), maybe because we need to explore and clarify critical distinctions of holiness which were not previously discussed. It is here that we also find the Sotah, a married woman suspected by her husband of adultery. Then, the Nazir, the one who opts for extra religious observances. Then, the priestly blessing. And then, the tribes’ princes bringing their sacrifice.
Is this just a strange laundry list that fell into this chapter, before we get to the “real” stories??
Numbers is the Book of Travel, so appropriately here for me now. Once again, I journey. And once again, like the Children of Israel, the journey is expected to be roundabout. Ultimately, to the Promised Land, but, then, there are going to be detours… (and on that, tbc -).
Back to the Book and this parasha, Naso means “lift up” and begins with the end of the mifkad, a count. What an incredible organization!! Everything is spelled out: which tribes reside next to which other tribes, and where is each relatively to the Tabernacle in the middle; who carries what, who travels with who. Order is necessary before disorder or there is no meaning to either one, and in that we going back to creation: an abyss before an orderly creation; an orderly creation, like a painter setting his clean canvas and bran-new paints, just in order to create a mess again….
It’s the story of a People. but in order to hold the group, the “mess” of this book first must begin with the individuals who need a “tikkun”, a repair: there are those that need it in their relationship with themselves; others – who struggle int heir relationship with G-d and others – with their fellow humans; including those who live in agony and doubt in their closest circle, at home, and need to resolve that before continuing.
Only once the Torah prescribed a method for each, we continue to the priestly blessing, which must be said with love, and to the offerings of the leaders of the tribes. Throughout the book we’ll spiral through these circles: from individuals to home communities, tribes, to the “klal” (the whole people) to how we deal with the world around us. Only then, we’ll be ready to approach the Land.
I am in awe, again, at the Torah’s great wisdom: We, who most pray in the plural language (“our” G-d, “our” king, G-d of “our” ancestors), might think that the “group” is more important than the individual; that we always “must” sacrifice ourselves for the greater good. Comes the Torah and says, let’s not go there just yet. Let’s first find a way to heal each individual according to their pain and needs, as best we can, and then, go from there to build the tribe and then, the whole People. Although each one of us is incomplete without another (as symbolized by the half shekel), each incomplete part has to constantly work to be whole within its “complete incompletion”…. And to think Freud was Jewish! What a coincidence!
May it be a Shabbat of healing, good beginnings and re-beginnings, and safe journeys. Shabbat Shalom.