NASO (Numbers, 4:21-7:89) — “Once Upon a Bus Trip”

I wrote last week (“Hair Today — Gone Tomorrow”) about a comparison between yesterday’s Levites and today’s Jewish women.  The Levites set an example for the Israelites by ignoring the peer pressure to follow the crowd and worship the Golden Calf.  In a similar vein, the Daughters of Israel provide the necessary leadership for the rest of our nation to follow.  Little did I suspect as I wrote those words how true I would soon find them to be.

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The Levites, descendants of Jacob’s third son Levi, are divided into three families — Kehas, Gershon, and Merari.  These three families are named after the three sons of Levi.  This week’s and last week’s Torah Portions describe some of the responsibilities of these Levitical families.  Each group was responsible for transporting different parts of the Tabernacle as they traveled through the desert.

Last week we read that the family of Kehas (Moses’ grandfather) was in charge of carrying the Ark and all the holy vessels that were used in the Temple Service.  There was a miracle associated with this task.   The Ark should have been quite heavy.  It was a large wooden box, lined inside and outside with gold.  It contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments that Moses had broken, and the replacement set as well.  Yet, as we read in the Book of Joshua, the Ark, rather than being too heavy to carry, actually carried its carriers!

(Like the Levitical family of Kehas, the women of Israel have “carried the Ark.”  The “Yiddishe Mammas” have always served on the front line of Torah Tradition.  They have served as the loyal transmitters of genuine Torah values to their children.  Even when the men of Israel strayed from the proper path, worshiping the Golden Calf or challenging the authority of Moses, the women always maintained their unquestioning devotion.  Rather than viewing their role as a burden, they have always seen Torah observance as a privilege; as something that uplifts them.  The Ark carries its carriers!)

This week’s Torah Reading describes the assignments of the other two families.  The Gershon family was in charge of carrying “covers.”

There were many curtains, covers, and screens in the Tabernacle.  The inside of the Tabernacle was not open for all the world to see.  The beauty and splendor of the holy vessels of the Tabernacle were hidden from plain view.  There were multi-colored tapestries, goat’s-hair covers and animal hides.  Covers rested on top of other covers.  The “Gershonites” were in charge of carrying those covers.

(Our “Levites,” the women of Israel, also specialize in “covers.”  If I may take the liberty of quoting myself, last week I wrote:

“The women of Israel have always inspired their families by doing the right thing.  Wearing appropriate attire isn’t always easy.  Dressing modestly isn’t politically correct.  One of the ways of gaining notoriety in today’s society is by appearing in extreme levels of ‘dis-dress.’ While the rest of the world looks for new ways to show as much as possible, the Jewish woman knows that true beauty comes through modesty and grace.”)

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“How to Spell ‘I Love You’” (2010)

…Can this marriage be saved? SHOULD this marriage be saved? … 

An abbreviated  Torah scroll is written, with parchment, ink, and quill. All of the sanctity of a Torah will be invested into that little scroll. G-d’s name, in Hebrew, will be written on this scroll seven times and then erased.

Erased?! What happened to the respect that we’re supposed to have for G-d’s name? Are we actually expected to erase the holy name of G-d? … Why should we show such dishonor to G-d’s name? We normally go to great lengths to avoid such a thing. Why is His name suddenly expendable?…

Read more.  

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“There Goes the Neighborhood” (2009) 

…The Tabernacle sat in the middle of the camp. The enclosed area of the Tabernacle was called “The Camp of G-d’s Presence.” It was surrounded by a second encampment, “The Levitical Camp.” As the name implies, that is where the Levites camped. The third encampment was where the other tribes camped. It was called “The Camp of Israel.” 

The Camp of Israel was a place of holiness; those who were defiled were required to stay out of the encampment until they could undergo a purification process: 

G-d spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the Israelites to expel from the camp everyone with Tzora’as, every Zav, and everyone who has been contaminated … 

Read more.

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“Wine Not?” (2007) 

For some people, 365 are not enough. 

There are 613 Commandments in the Torah; 248 positive and 365 negative. While it is forbidden to add any Mitzvahs, there is a way that a person can accept additional prohibitions within the framework of existing commandments… 

A Nazir is a person who chooses to separate himself by prohibiting several activities that would otherwise be permitted: He does not consume grape products. He demonstrates his disdain for the social scene by allowing his hair to grow wild and unkempt. He lives a life of holy separation; he maintains a high level of spiritual purity, avoiding contact with the dead. 

The Nazir is a person who decides to get closer to G-d by removing himself from some of the physical pleasures that the world has to offer. He is a spiritual person who has voluntarily accepted upon himself a restrictive lifestyle… 

What is going on here? Is it good to be a Nazir or is it bad? Is it a sin to refrain from wine, or is it a sin to go back to drinking wine? 

The answer, in typical Jewish fashion, is that it depends… 

Read more.

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“Once Upon a Bus Trip” (2004) 

… It seemed like just another weekend.  Last Friday, the girls of the Bais Yaakov High School in Monsey, New York, set off for a weekend of inspiration and unity at a camp in the Catskills.  They studied, prayed, and sang together over Shabbos.  Early Sunday morning they boarded the busses for their return to Monsey. 

While driving down a steep hill, the first bus went out of control, crashing through a guardrail.  The bus slid 25 feet down an embankment, ending up partially submerged in a river. 

The short story is that there were several girls with broken bones and stitches, and three with more serious injuries.  Everyone survived. 

The long story is much more complex.  Emergency workers and volunteers rushed to the scene.  Among the necessary items they brought were body bags.  Their use was anticipated.  The Chevra Kadisha, religious burial society, was summoned as well.  Fatalities were expected.  Miraculously, there were none. 

It would be the epitome of arrogance for me to presume to know why G-d provided this extra measure of Divine Protection to these precious young ladies.  However, I’d like to suggest we consider the following… 

Read more.

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“Blessing the Blessers” (2003) 

… 1) Why is it the job of the Kohanim to bless the Nation? Why can’t ANYBODY do it?

2) Why does G-d need to have somebody bless us? Why doesn’t He do it Himself?! (After all, the Kohanim are simply asking G-d to bless us!)

3) Everybody lines up in front of the Kohanim to be blessed. When do the Kohanim get to line up in front of someone to be blessed? Who blesses THEM?!… 

Read more.

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“Play It Again, Achira” (2001)

… Have you ever come into Shul and found yourself uninspired due to the fact that today’s prayers are identical to the prayers you said last time you were there? Wouldn’t it be nice if traditional synagogues would allow for some personal creativity in expressing our prayers to the Almighty? …

Read more.  

This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2014 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on May 24, 2004 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  

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