May 23, 2021 – Parshas Naso

Shabbos morning left home  at 8:35 AM to walk to Anshei Shalom.   Got there at 10:20 AM and sat next to Eli.  Listened to Rabbi David Wolkenfeld’s Shiur., below.   Left Anshei Shalom and arrived at Chabad of Lakeview at 10:50 AM.  They were in the middle of the Torah reading.  The Rabbi spoke well.   There was a big Kiddush.  Alexi became a Geyoris by the CRC and she sponsored a Kiddush.  She spoke and had a great story.  This week’s Medresh on Verse 5:10 spoke about the significance of converts.   After the Kiddush I gave a Shiur to Paul and Jack (Charlotte’s adopted brother).  I went to Eli’s house, slept for 1.25 hours and walked 5 miles home.  

My Torah thoughts:

I first spoke about the beginning of the Parsha.  On Verse 5:2 Rashi says “This section was spoken on the day when the Tabernacle was erected; there were eight sections spoken on that day, as is related in Treatise Gittin 60a, in the chapter beginning with the word הנזקין.”

Bamidbar begins with a census of the Jews in the desert which was taken in the second year after leaving Egypt on the 1st day of Iyar.  24 days later they would be heading to Israel, until fate intervened.   Why was it necessary to have thes Parsha of the census out of chronological order?  Second question – why was the census done a month after the Miskan was assembled, one month after God put his presence in the Mishkan.  Placing Hashem’s Shekinah is directly  related to the census as Rashi said in Bamidbar Verse 1:1.   At first glance I would think that the census should have taken place on the first of Adar.  The simple answer is that there was no time as the Jews were building the Mishkan. However, it should have been written after the twelve Korboans of the twelve princes.

The Torah in Nasso strings together six topics.  It starts with the end of the census, counting the tribe of Levi and their jobs.    After finishing the counting the Torah discusses a number of subjects related to the Mishkan, directly or indirectly.    Verse 5:10 discusses the levels of holiness in the camp of the Jews.  Space is made holy and we go up from lower levels of holiness to higher levels.  I heard this concept  from Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda TZL in Boca Raton.  Just like in space on earth we have levels of holiness, so we have it in time.  Weekday, Shabbos, holso May idays, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah.  2)  We see that the encampment of the twelve tribes, the living place of the Jewish people, was holy.  3) Next topic is theft, particularly theft from a convert, 4)  the need to give Bikkurim, 5) the fifth topic is adultery.  Connected to adultery is Nazir.  6) The sixth topic is Birchas Kohanim.  7)  Afterwards the Torah speaks about  the offerings of the twelve tribes.  The verse starting from Verse 5:10 in Nasso and ending at the fifth Aliyah of Parshas  Behaaloscha,  verse 10:10 was said or done on the first day of Nissan and forward.   We have to go to Bamidbar Verse 10:11 to pick up the unfolding events in a chronological order for the Jews in the desert, which would be the expected chronological order .  

I believe the answer is as follows.   The Torah is teaching us how the Mishkan and Bais Hamikdash and Jewish society survives.      

1. Census

It starts with us understanding that God loves us.  Rashi Bamidbar Verse 1:1

2.  Sending out Tamah people  Verses 5:2-4

We are holy people and our living spaces are also holy.  In addition

we have access to enter into higher levels of holiness. 

3.  Theft and theft from a convert. Verse 5:5-8

Theft corrupts.  The Parsha is dealing with all theft, but the Torah here adds that repayment of theft from a convert who has died goes to the Kohen.  

The Medresh brings down from Verse 5:10 the integration and specialness of converts and their holiness.  We could add the acceptance of others is also a part of our holiness and base for a civil and just society.

4.  Giving Bikkurim – Verse 5:9110

We have to share our wealth and success with others.

5.  Sotah – Verse 5:11-31

Family relationships have to be stable to bring holiness.

6.  Birchas Kohanim  6:22-26

If we understand and are loyal to items 2 – 5 then God will bless us with Birchas Kohanim.  

Then as Rabbi Wolkenfled said, we will be beacons of peace in the world.

The counting of the Jewish people was purposely performed on the 1st day of Iyar, close to the commandment to travel to Israel as a lesson for future generations of what is needed for the Jewsih nation to sustain itself.  

Rabbi’s Speech:

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld.  
ASBI Congregation
Naso 5781

May God Grant Peace

Who is the subject of Jewish prayer? When the siddur says “we” “us” “our” as in the phrase “our God” “heal us” and “we thank you” who is the subject? It seems that in almost every instance, the first-person-plural voice that is adopted in Jewish prayer reflects Klal Yisrael – the spiritual collective that unites all Jews. Although we pray as individuals, and should personalize our prayers, our fixed liturgy expresses the hopes and dreams and yearnings of every Jew. There is just one exception.

The final blessing of the amidah is Birkat HaShalom, the blessing of peace. The subject of this blessing is not Klal Yisrael, but the congregation present at that moment. That’s why we request שִׂים שָׁלוֹם טוֹבָה וּבְרָכָה חֵן וָחֶֽסֶד וְרַחֲמִים עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּֽךָ. We ask for the blessing of peace and grace and kindness and mercy be bestowed on “us and on all Israel.” We speak to God in this blessing as a congregation standing together in one room, and then we ask that the blessings that we have received be shared outward and shared onward. The blessing of peace, once received, must be shared with others. Or, the only way the blessing of peace can be manifest in the world is if it is shared.

The blessing, Sim Shalom, is a congregational recapitulation of Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing which is found in Parashat Naso and which is recited immediately before Sim Shalom in the public amidah. Birkat Kohanim concludes with a blessing for peace, and then the congregation responds that we pray that this peace will indeed be granted to us and not just to us.

As Birkat Kohanim is found in the Torah there is some ambiguity about precisely who is blessing and who is receiving blessing. At the end of the sixth chapter of Sefer Bamidbar we find:

דַּבֵּ֤ר אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶל־בָּנָ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר כֹּ֥ה תְבָרְכ֖וּ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אָמ֖וֹר לָהֶֽם׃        

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃        

יָאֵ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃        

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהֹוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃       

Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:

The LORD bless you and protect you!

The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!

The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

And then there is a curious summation.

 וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרְכֵֽם׃ 

“And they (that is, the priests) shall place My name upon the Children of Israel and I shall bless them.”

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva disagree about how to understand that verse. According to Rabbi Akiva (and Rashi agrees with his interpretation) the word “them” refers to the Israelite recipients of the blessing. God is endorsing the birkat kohanim and carrying out the intentions of Birkat Kohanim. According to Rabbi Yishmael  – who is also quoted by Rashi – God blesses the kohanim, setting up a chain in which the kohanim bless the Israelites and God blesses the kohanim. Ibn Ezra understands the phrase “bless them” to refer to both the kohanim and the Israelites who are simultaneously blessed by God through the ritual of Birkat Kohanim. 

Undeniably there is ambiguity in the phrasing of the verse. But all of the interpretations have in common a nexus between God, the Kohanim, and the Israelites. The relationship between these three is important and potent and the pinnacle of that relationship of blessing is bestowing peace that expands outward in circles. The blessings of peace are never limited to the first recipients; they are always passed onward.

The opening line of Birkat Kohanim is focused on basic material needs. Rashi tells us that יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ May God bless you and protect you refers to our bodies and our posessions being safe from any threat. If so, the blessing of peace in the third line of Birkat Kohanim must mean more than the absence of war. 

Shalom implies “sheleimut” – the state of being that Yaakov attained וַיָּבֹא֩ יַעֲקֹ֨ב שָׁלֵ֜ם  after reconciling with his brother. It was only after reconciliation with his great rival after many decades of fear and enmity that Yaakov was able to be at peace with himself and his place in the world.

Maimonides, the Rambam, ends his Book of Seasons with a moving praise of peace as a telos of the entire Torah:

גָּדוֹל הַשָּׁלוֹם שֶׁכָּל הַתּוֹרָה נִתְּנָה לַעֲשׂוֹת שָׁלוֹם בָּעוֹלָם 

“Great is peace, since the entire Torah has been given to create peace in the world.” But this peace too is not simply the absence of war. For Rambam, peace entails the freedom and tranquility and harmony to study Torah and to draw close to God. He concludes his great book, Mishneh Torah, by explaining that our sages and prophets yearned for Mashiach and for redemption, not live lives of ease, but to live at a time in which there would be the freedom to pursue Torah study and the contemplation of God in a world without competition or famine or war.

The Jewish people are described in the Torah as being a mamlechet kohanim. We are a kingdom of priests. This means that just as the kohanim are a conduit of blessing to the Israelites, so too, all of us together are meant to be a conduit of blessing to humanity. And so the trilogy of God, kohanim, and Israelites transferring blessing and bestowing peace on one another is meant to play out on a larger and universal scale.

One disturbing facet of the past week of fighting in Israel and Gaza were news reports of young American Jews, who have become increasingly alienated from Israel over their perception of a growing divide between their idealism and the reality of the circumstances in which the State of Israel conducts its policy. I don’t know if that describes any of you but if it does, I suggest that walking away in disappointment and disillusionment is not a choice any Jew should make. First, because as I wrote last week, our brothers and sisters in Israel are literally our family and not metaphorically our family. You can’t walk away from your family.

But, also, your care and concern and support for Israel as it makes its way, in fits and starts, towards peace is among the most important religious tasks that a Jew can undertake in this generation. The redemptive potential of the Jewish people’s return to Eretz Yisrael is not in tension with the need to come to a peaceful accommodation with Israel’s neighbors. Redemption is the direct outcome of that peaceful accommodation.

This was said and understood by many others. Rav Menachem Froman z’l, a mystic and peace activist from the West Bank town of Tekoa said this years ago. This message was shared anonymously by a Jerusalem rabbi to Roi Ravitzky years ago when he was researching ways to elicit the support of religious Muslims and Jews for peace negotiations. And it was said yesterday by Rabbi Chananel Rosen of Tel Aviv following a week of rocket attacks and internecine violence. I read these words of his in an email on Friday and they took my breath away:

“Either we are doomed to intractable, unending conflict until the times of Moshiach, or – and this is a big ‘or’ – there is a reason that we’re not alone in this land, and our destinies are somehow tied up with those of the Other (Muslims, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians – whichever). For whatever reason, God has thrown us together with them, and we need to deal with that. In the final analysis, I suspect that deep down many of us would be far happier if we woke up to find that these “others” had suddenly been magically teleported to Uganda – and they no doubt feel similarly about us. No such luck though; I think God has other plans for us all.”

My attempt to understand Rabbi Wolkenfeld’s speech.


David Wolkenfeld
4:49 AM (1 hour ago)Reply
to me

Shalom,

This is a very fair and accurate recapitulation of my words.

In terms of peace, I think the mindset that would need to be developed, both among Israelis and Palestinians, is for each group to see each other as permanent neighbors sharing a common homeland. From the Israeli perspective, this means that no peace agreement with an Arab government can substitute for reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians who were displaced by the creation of Israel and who still live within the sovereign State of Israel or the territory that Israel controls. From this vantage point, the Abraham Accords were, at best, a distraction, insofar as far off oil sheikdoms cannot substitute for the millions of human beings who reside within the only sovereign nation that currently exists between the river and the sea.

I don’t see much hope for short-term optimism.  But, there are some very interesting and inspiring green shoots – religious Israelis and religious Muslims in Israel and the West Bank meeting for dialogue. There is the “two states, one homeland” movement which has significant rabbinic support. There is Mansour Abbas who is an ideological cousin of Hamas – two parallel wings of the Muslim Brotherhood – and who leads the Arab political party that has done the most to integrate itself into Israeli politics this past year and who pledged to rebuild the synagogue destroyed last week in Lod…

Best wishes,

David

From: Mitchell Morgenstern <mitchellamorgenstern@gmail.com>
Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 10:31 PM
To: David Wolkenfeld <rabbiw@asbi.org>
Subject: Re: Yesterday

Rabbi Wolkenfeld:

 I am trying to understand the theme of your speech.  Is this what you are saying?

 1)  Peace only works in concentric circles, from one person to another person or from one group to the next.  Meaning Sholem has to emanate from us as individuals and from groups however defined.  It can be a Shul, a class, a block, or a business.   It includes Israel as a whole.

 2)  Shalom is also defined as being complete.  When we feel complete, we are at peace with ourselves, happy with life, and as a result we can radiate goodness and peace to the world.

 3)  Israel and the Arabs must live together as this is what God dictates.  Therefore Israel must project peace despite all the hardships.

 I have always tried to live #1 and believe was successful.  As a banker, I always have tried to give people a fair deal, waive fees, and give them the benefit of doubt.  I  always put myself in their position and respond to them as I would want if the roles were reversed.  In fact that this mentality was great marketing for the bank and did more than the millions of dollars spent on marketing. It only brought me success in my career.   I had to fight the corporate mentality and kind of do things quietly.

This is true for many, many professions.  The goodness you can do in any business is Godly.  A mechanic that is honest is a Godsend.  I look  Jewish pizza stores and places where Chessed is done every day.  The Jewish people tend to have large families and need inexpensive, tasty food.   This applies to every single business.  One must see the higher calling of what they are doing.  A plumber is not just fixing a toilet or a water line.  He is giving a family normal living conditions.  

 #2 is so true.  When I am a peace with myself, I am more effective and better able to empathise with people.

 Sorry to get political on #3.

#3 is an issue for every Israeli and for the government as a whole.  As most people, I feel that there is almost no solution for the Israeli –  Palestinian conflict.  The Abraham Accords seem to be the best chance.  Find peace from without by changing the mindset, then potentially peace can be found within.  This is somewhat similar to Golde Meir’s efforts for diplomacy in the 1950s using Israeli farming innovations for Africa because Israel did not have money.  This fell apart in 1967 after the six day war, when they were promised money and oil from the Arab countries.  

  On Sun, May 23, 2021 at 2:45 PM David Wolkenfeld <rabbiw@asbi.org> wrote:

It was great to see you too.

Best wishes,

David

From: Mitchell Morgenstern <mitchellamorgenstern@gmail.com>
Date: Sunday, May 23, 2021 at 2:24 PM
To: David Wolkenfeld <rabbiw@asbi.org>
Subject: Yesterday

Rabbi Wolkenfeld:

It was nice to be in Shul yesterday.  I would like a copy of your Drasha.

Mitchell A. Morgenstern

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