the structure of the parasha
The urban geography
In parasha Bemidbar Sinai, we saw that the entire Jewish
people were organized around holiness (keddusha): the
Shla notes that this parasha centers around the soul of
things, the neshama.
Parasha Naso centers around the level of mind ruah, and
Behalotekha, the next parasha, will center around nefesh,
Here, in the center of holiness, in a collective reality,
the Levites form a circle between the sanctuary and the
camp of benei Israel. What is the function of the Levite,
that develops the level of the mind, the ruah and how?
duties of the Levites
Parasha Bemidbar Sinai ended with a description of the
role of the Levites in the camp and among the people.
They belong to Hashem (velahta et haleviim li, "And
the Levites shall be Mine" Bemidbar 3, 13 and 41)
and serve as ransom for all the other sons of Israel (kah
et haleviim tahat ko bekhor bivne Yisrael, "And thou
shalt take the Levites for Me
instead of all the
first-born among the children of Israel" Bemidbar
Their duties are detailed, family by family: first the
Levites, sons of Kohath, are charged with all that relates
to the tent of the meeting. Then the sons of Aaron are
charged with covering the holy vessels which the sons
of Kohath will carry.
Parasha Naso continues to describe the duties of the other
Levite families: the sons of Gershon who will carry the
hangings and coverings of the Tabernacle, and the sons
of Merari who are assigned the burden of carrying the
heavy parts of the sanctuary. They "carry" that
which carries holiness, they carry the people, and will
lift its morale and point out its faults.
Genealogy of Yaakov
His 4 wives 1. Leah 2. Zilpa
3. Rahel 4. Bilha
Their children 3. LEVI 1. Gad 1. Yosef 1. Dan
1 daughter and 4. Yehuda 2. Asher 2. Binyamin 2. Naphtali
12 sons 5. Yissakhar
The sons of Levi 1. Gershon
(Bereshit 46, 2. Kohath
8-11) 3. Merari
They descend from Levi, the third son of Yaakov and Leah.
Levi lived 137 years (2195-2332). He was 34 when Yitzhak
died, 60 when his father Yaakov died, and 114 when Yosef
died. He did not live to see the birth of Moshe, his great
References: Shemot 6, 16-18
The sons of Levi
--- Levi had three sons (read Bemidbar 3, 13-17..): Gershon,
Kohath and Merari and one daughter Yokhebed who marries
Amram, the son of Kohath and gives birth to Aaron, Miriam
--- It is Korah, a grandson of Kohath, who will rise to
--- The sons of Aaron are Nadav and Avihu who will die
as they approach the sanctuary, Elazar and Itamar.
Genealogy of Levi
The children of Levi Gershon Yokhebed Kohath Merari
3rd generation Children of 2. Izar, father Maali
Grandchildren Gershon: of Korah, the Mushi
of Levi Livini rebel, his eldest
4th generation Amram: Korah
Children of Tzipora
Elazar (father of Pinhas),
Children of Tzipora
The three branches
Thus among the Levites are all the descendants of Gershon,
Kohath and Merari. They number 22,000 (read Rashi on Bemidbar
--- the descendants of Gershon: 7500 (read Bemidbar 3,
--- the descendants of Kohath: 8600 (read Bemidbar 3,
--- the descendants of Merari: 6200 (read Bemidbar 3,
--- 300 firstborn (read Rashi on Bemidbar 3, 39).
We can see that the Levites form a total of 22300. When
Moshe takes the census of the firstborn of the people,
they form practically the same number (22273: read Bemidbar
3, 42-43). The meaning of what is written in Bemidbar
becomes clearer: those who symbolize holiness are a minority
among the people of Israel, just as Israel is a minority
among the nations of the world.
For an understanding of what it means to be a moral minority,
read chapter 9 of the book of Isaiah where the prophet
laments his isolation. Our complaints are minute compared
to these problems.
In Bemidbar 33, 1-15 we learn that we are at the 12th
stage since the exodus from Egypt.
If I were asked why I include all these details as though
they are of great importance, I would answer that we love
every detail about those we love and tradition tells us
too that were all among the 600,000 nefashot who came
out of Egypt and stood at Sinai. Rashi says: "why
are these journeys described? in order to make known (hodia,
the name of this site) the goodness of God (lama nikhtevu
hamaseot halelu lehodia hasadav shel makom).
The marches of the wandering
Those who continue to suffer after having come out of
a catastrophe or form of slavery, should remember that
there were 12 stages in the long progression from Egypt
Ramses, Succot, Etam, Pi-haritot, Mara, Elim, the sea
of reeds, the wilderness of Sin, Dophkah, Alush, Rephidim,
and the wilderness of Sinai which, preceding the revelation,
was just a desert. This was in the year 2448, from the
exodus from Egypt to the revelation at Sinai.
Students should learn this list by heart in order to lift
their spirits when they feel very far from the goals they
want to achieve in life.
Three more stages will have to be crossed in the year
2449 before the spies come back with the news that the
land is good: Kivrot-hatava, Hatzerot, Ritma.
There are 19 more stages between the years 2449 and 2488
in the desert, from Rimon Perez to Mount Hor after the
desert of Kaddesh.
The last 8 stages, from Zalmona to the steppes of Moav
in the year 2488 takes place in the 40th year following
the exodus from Egypt.
The whole process involves 42 stages.
Rashi's sense of humor, or
what it means to be a Jew
Rashi demonstrates that the children of Israel had to
cross 42 steps after Moav, before reaching the good land
(read Bemidbar 33, 1-15 and Rashi's commentary).
Here it is:
"Lama nikhtevu hamasaot halalu, why are these stations
Le hodia hasadav shel Makom, It is in order to make known
the goodness of God.
Lo tomar she hayu naim umetultelim mimasa le masa, one
cannot say that they erred and went round and round
She hare ein han ela arbaim u shetayim masaot, for there
here no more than 42 stations !! (This is Rashi's wonderful
She kol shmone ushloshim shan lo nasu ela eserim masot,
one sees that during 38 years they only crossed 20 stations"
What would it feel like if
we had to move 20 times in 38 years, as individuals or
as a group. Hashem asks such trials of those He loves
the most; we should remember this.
How different is this lifestyle from that of modern consumer
society: many people live their whole lives with just
one goal - buying a house or retiring. This is not the
Jewish model and it is natural that making aliya (to Israel)
may seem a difficult prospect to those who come from a
different cultural world.
Furthermore the number 42 has a lot of significance in
Judaism; it refers to the 42-letter name of God which
describes the force that elevates us - and whose initials
make up the prayer ana vekhoah which is recited everyday
during the counting of the Omer.
Parasha Naso is read on the day when Moshe completed the
period of 7 days of construction of the sanctuary, one
year after the exodus from Egypt, in the year 2449, in
the month of Nisan.
Those who are able to read Hebrew texts, should study
the different analyses of Rashi and of Ramban (Nahmanides)
of this date in Bemidbar 7, 1.
The important dates were:
--- the 1st of Nisan, construction of the sanctuary,
--- then, 7 days of dedication of the sanctuary,
--- then, for 12 days (the Sages say till the 12th or
till the 19th day, according to their various calculations),
the heads or princes of each tribe brought offerings for
the ceremony (read Bemidbar ch. 7).
Measures to safeguard the
purity of the camp
Before officially confirming the holy sanctuary built
by the tribes, Hashem gave Moshe the measures that had
to be taken to ensure the purity of the camp:
--- Bemidbar 5, 1-4: exclusion of unclean persons, the
leper, one who has an issue, and one who has become polluted
by contact with the dead (for holiness is life);
--- Bemidbar 5, 5-10: removal of all wrongs committed
--- Bemidbar 5, 11-31: laws governing problems of marital
jealousy and infidelity;
--- Bemidbar 6, 1-22: laws (Nazirite) governing the rare
and dangerous cases of ascetics who impose on themselves
austere modes of self-dedication.
The place of the blessing
When all the laws have been completed, the procedure for
the magnificent priestly blessing by the Cohanim is then
given (Bemidbar 6, 22-27).
Confirmation of the people
The heads of the tribes bring their offerings. We learn
what is a true offering - that which is taken from our
own possessions (read Rashi, mishelo hevi, he brought
what was his, on 7, 12; ze korban Nakhshon ben Aminadav,
this was the offering of Nakhson the son of Aminadav 7,
A different offering is brought
each day, in harmony with the creation of the world (lemaase
vereshit, Rashi on 7, 12). True gifts re-create the world.
Finally, THE voice
The voice of Hashem then makes itself heard to Moshe in
the intimacy of the tent, as though God were speaking
to himself (Rashi on 7, 89). The parasha ends with this
wonderful moment of love between the two: "And when
Moshe entered the tent of meeting, that He might speak
with him, then he heard the Voice speaking unto him
the two cherubim (Mibein Shnei Hakeruvim) and He spoke
Each term carries meaning.
Remember that the initial letter for Mibein Sheni Hakeruvim
(7, 89) form the name Moshe.
Many lessons can be drawn
from this symphony of words: slavery, deliverance, long
wanderings before reaching the levels of intimacy and
happiness. This is not a concert, it is a teaching which
we should apply to our own lives, on how to follow the
Torah and achieve true happiness.
The camp of joy in holiness
In this context, we will now discover the duties of the
Levites and that of Jews in the world.
We will base ourselves on the commentary of Rabbenu Bahya
and follow his method.
Method of Rabbenu Bahya
Before each parasha, the Rav inserts a commentary which
directs our approach to the whole parasha, based on one
verse of Proverbs (Mishle).
He bases himself on the commentary of Rabbenu Yona on
Mishle and gives it his own perspective. His aim is to
link the Torah and moral conduct, musar. Rabbenu Yona
ben Avraham, the Hassid of Gerondi (1200-1263) is the
famous author of Shaarei Teshuva (The gates of Return)
which we study mainly before Rosh Hashana, and of commentaries
on Avot and on the Rif which are found in editions of
Tractate Berakhot in the Talmud. He was a colleague of
the Ramban and studied with the tosafists in France.
His commentary is also special because of his analysis
of the text at 4 levels, that of the peshat, the drash,
the sod and the kabala, which we will not go into here.
His analysis of the parasha
centers on the link between joy and the Levite.
Proverbs 21, 15 says: "It is joy to the just to do
judgment, but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity"
(simha ha tzadik asot mishpat, umenhita lefoalei aven).
Justice here does not refer to the justice of men but
to justice which ensures the order of the world and its
The role of joy
Rabbenu Yona notes that there are four words in Hebrew
to denote joy:
and simha is the highest level, as is written in Provers
23, 24 (to be read). Read also what I have written on
joy in relation to the Sheva Berakhot.
This joyfulness characterizes
the person who is connected to the tzadik hakham, to the
righteous person who is a master of Torah. This is written
in Psalm 32, 11: "Be glad in Hashem and rejoice ye
righteous, and shout for joy, al ye that are upright in
It is this point which Rabbenu Bahya uses to teach us
that the Levite radiates joy where he resides, in the
camp of all Israel.
The master of bad actions (the tzaddik rasha) does not
create joy in those he encounters. This concept of the
master of Torah who is either good or bad, makes a very
important moral distinction. The prophets always made
this distinction. The teaching of the last week of the
Omer tells us this: he who seeks glory from the Torah
is bad, for the Torah teaches us that we are empty (ani,
poor) until we receive life from the Torah.
The process of achieving joyfulness
--- not only does a good deed create joy (asot mishpat),
--- but the joy experienced in a mitzva is a mitzva in
itself (ha simha bemaase ha mitzva, mitzva bifne atzma),
--- in the same way that a mitzva is called work (avoda)
in the service of Hashem, so the joy which we put into
a mitzva is an avoda for Hashem,
--- then there is the traditional concept that prayer
is an avoda of the heart, in the service of the heart,
--- this link between a religious act and joy is intrinsic
to what is written in Devarim 28, 47: "Because thou
servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness and with
gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, therefore
shalt thy serve thy enemies which the Lord shall send
The categorical tone of this verse aims to make us understand
the necessity of the link between joyfulness and religious
rites, in prayer and in action, or in the mitzvot which
we do unto others.
This joyfulness signifies completeness (shlemut) in our
It is in order to maintain all of this at a level of joy,
says Rabbenu Bahya, that the sanctuary was filled with
singing and music, for these lead men towards joy.
The age when the Levite carried
out his musical duties
It is for this reason too that the Levite only carried
out his collective duty from the age of 30-50, for this
is the age when the voice is strongest and best put in
the service of song and joy, as is written at the end
of chapter 5 of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers); see
also Tractate, Hulin page 24 a.
The role of the Levites is
therefore essential in creating joyfulness. We too, as
Jews, have the role of bringing the joy of Torah to the
world. Torah must not be taught with sadness or constriction,
for this is not joyful or enlightening.
I am surprised that in Israel, the role of the Levites
has not been revived. Many institutions devote themselves
to research on the Temple and on the role of the Cohanim,
and many yeshivot train Cohanim. Why are the same efforts
not made to revive the essential role of the Levites.
When, each day, I return to Jerusalem, I conjure how the
Levites welcomed weary pilgrims on the road and re-invigorated
them with music and song. This is the origin of the Psalms
that sing of the arrival to Jerusalem.
If any of you know of efforts being made in this direction,
please contact me.
Some references on joyfulness
Berakhot 6b: he who gladdens the betrothed deserves to
receive the Torah.
Berakhot 31a: one must only pray in joy.
Shabbat 30b: the shekhina does not dwell in sadness but
only where there is joy.
Shabbat 152a: joy is woman.
Rosh Hashana 6b: woman, her husband gladdens her.
Taanit 26b: he who is joyful in times of hardship brings
salvation to the world.
Taanit 30a: he who mourns the destruction of the Temple
deserves to see its rejoicing.
Yevamot 62b: a Jew who has no wife does not know joy.
Pirkei Avot 3, 12: welcome all men with joy.
Pirkei Avot 4, 1: who is rich? He who rejoices in what
Arkhin 11a: what is avoda, the work of the heart? It is
to sing the words of the Torah.
Midrash Zuta, Eikha 28: in the future, God will make the
9th of Av a day of joy.
Tanhuma, Yithro 16: man must rejoice more in days of sorrows
than in days of good.
Tanhuma, Tetzave 16: when, on the day of Kippur, the High
Priest came out alive from the sanctuary, great joy spread
through all Israel.
Tanhuma, Pikude 11: When God saw the joy with which the
people built the sanctuary, he wanted to add to it the
joy of the birth of Yitzhak.
Tanhuma, Tazria 5: God says, when I see you carry out
the mitzvot with joy, I give you more joy.
Read the following verses
from the Psalms:
4, 8; 30, 12; 97, 11; 16, 11; 21, 7; 45, 16; 68, 4; 100,
The method in review
- after reading the entire
- read the references,
- memorize the plan,
- till you can teach it from memory,
- reflect on the application of these teachings to Jewish
life and to your personal life.
Do not hesitate to ask me
questions or to make recommendations. They are helpful
to me in order to improve these commentaries.