Suspected adultery! Hair*! Samson! All this and more this week!
*Scroll past the comments for my own hair history.
“More” is right. At 176 verses, this is the longest single weekly Torah portion. There appear to be several topics, but they hang together in a stream-of-consciousness manner. As I noted here 6 years ago, Umberto Cassuto (1883-1951) wrote that Biblical subject matter “was often linked by a process of thought and, in particular, word association,
probably designed as an aid to memory.” (Cassuto, Sefer Hakinus, 1947 lectures, p. 168, cited in N. Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, pp. 38-9)
- First, we complete the Levite census and job descriptions. Since they had to take down and carry the Tabernacle and its accoutrements en route, they were retired from that at age 50, though I don’t know why their census here starts at 30, not 20.
- Since we just read about the camp, that leads to a reminder to remove ritually unclean people from it.
- Their ritual purification requirements lead to comments about the guilt offering required when one has done wrong “is breaking faith with” the Lord.
- That phrase is also used for a wife suspected of adultery, i.e., breaking faith with her husband, so (of course) what comes next is the sotah ritual for such suspected wives. This involves not just having her drink “bitter waters,” but also uncovering her hair.
- So, of course, what follows are laws concerning nazirites, who vow not to cut one’s hair or beard, to abstain from intoxicants and grapes, and to refrain from contact with a corpse.
- Since this practice was to enable a higher state of holiness, what do we read next but the well-known priestly benediction (6:24-26); note that the priests don’t bless the people themselves but are expressing a wish that the Lord will bestow blessings on them (6:27).
- This naturally leads into the list of gifts brought to dedicate the
just-completed Tabernacle, twelve identical offerings, from one tribe each
day, each described in detail over and over and over, which takes up about half the reading, whence its length.
The sections on the sotah process and the nazirite generally evoke the most interest (curiosity, head-scratching, etc.). We have an entire tractate Sotah in the Mishnah , a tractate in the Babylonian Talmud, https://www.sefaria.org/Sotah.2a?lang=bi and of course lots of commentaries with details that flesh out the description in Numbers. For example, in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Maimonides describes many such details: how the woman must be warned, what women are exempt, what if she confesses, what if she refuses to drink, what kind of ink is used to write the Holy Name to be dissolved from parchment into the bitter water, implications for subsequent divorce and marriage, etc. The plethora of details, plus apparent rabbinic squeamishness at the need to write the name of God on parchment and then dissolve it away, strongly suggest that the rabbis wanted to use this as a threat to prevent a wife’s unfaithfulness but did not want her to actually go through with the ritual. According to the Mishnah, the practice was halted in the 1st century C.E. by R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, ostensibly because adultery had become so common (Mishnah Sotah 9).
The nazir, as noted above, vowed to abstain from intoxicants, grapes, haircuts and shaving, and contact with a corpse, thereby consecrating himself (or herself) to the Lord. The rabbis were ambivalent about the practice, noting that a sin offering was required at the end, and that our tradition teaches moderation not asceticism (Sources: http://www.mishnahyomit.com/issues/Vol3Iss24.pdf , and Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, pp. 51-9.) With the exception of Samuel and Samson, nazirut was for a limited period, usually at least 30 days (and if you broke the vow, even accidentally, you had to start the count over). Samuel was consecrated as a small child by his mother when he was given into the care of Eli (1 Samuel 2:28). Samson’s birth is foretold in this week’s haftarah, Judges 13:2-25. (Slight digression: my choral group, Delaware Choral Arts, put on a well-received performance of Handel’s oratorio, Samson, two weeks ago. It has little to do with the Biblical account, though, except for pulling down the Philistine temple at the end.) He was to be a nazir from conception. His life, even pre-Delilah, indicates he didn’t fully appreciate the spiritual aspects of his status.
My Hair History
Over the last several decades, I have gone from very short hair to hip-length and back again. As a start-of-summer ritual, my mother would take me to get my bobbed hair cut even shorter. I really wanted curly hair, and my mother assured me that, since the ends had started to perk up, cutting it shorter would make it curlier. I fell for that one for years.
As I got older, I let my hair grow during the year but kept the summer pixie cut until high school. There, I was a bit smug about my long, naturally straight hair that required no ironing. I liked playing with it, too, ponytails, braids, whatever, even though it made me look about 12. In college, I also loved playing with my boyfriend’s curls.
After a year of grad school, my hair was hip length, mainly out of neglect. It doubled as a sweater on cold days in New England. I missed Rich and playing with his curls (we were about 1200 miles apart), especially at services when we sang Anim Zemirot with its reference to taltalim sh’chorot, black curls.
I then got my hair cut to shoulder length, where it pretty much stayed until after I had kids. My toddler son regarded my hair as his blankie, so once I collected the clippngs at the hairdresser, hoping to glue them to a cardboard backing. Didn’t work.
I gradually adopted a shorter style, since that made me look closer to my age and was easier to neglect. When a haircut was noticeable, I indulged in one-liners:
You got a haircut!
No, I got all of them cut.
You cut your hair!
No, I paid someone else to cut it.
Did you get a haircut?
No, it shrank in the wash.
You got a haircut!
(astonished) I did?!!
And this doesn’t even begin to get into color issues…
Retirement Quips & Words of Wisdom & Humor
- The key to a happy retirement is to have enough money to live on, but not enough to worry about.
- Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.
- When you retire you must be active and social, don’t sit around the house or become a couch potato or pumpkin or any kind of vegetable.
- I retired early for health reasons – my company was sick of me and I was sick of them.
- A father said his teenage son took an aptitude test and was found to be well-suited for retirement.
- I have never liked working. To me a job is an invasion of privacy.
- Retirement is a night owl’s dream, you finally don’t have to do mornings.
A married man was having an affair with his secretary. One day, their passions overcame them in the office and they took off for her house. Exhausted from the afternoon’s activities, they fell asleep and awoke at around 8 p.m. As the man threw on his clothes, he told the woman to take his shoes outside and rub them through the grass and dirt. Confused, she nonetheless complied and he slipped into his shoes and drove home. “Where have you been?” demanded his wife when he entered the house. “Darling,” replied the man, “I can’t lie to you. I’ve been having an affair with my secretary. I fell asleep in her bed and didn’t wake up until eight o’clock.” The wife glanced down at his shoes and said, “You liar! You’ve been playing golf!”
- Preventing baldness is simple. Just knot your hair from the inside.
- A man was driving along the highway, and saw a rabbit hopping across the middle of the road. He swerved to avoid hitting the rabbit, but unfortunately the rabbit jumped in front of the car and was hit. The driver, being a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over to the side of the road, and got out to see what had become of the rabbit. Much to his dismay, the rabbit was dead. The driver felt so awful, he began to cry. A woman driving down the highway saw the man crying on the side of the road and pulled over. She stepped out of her car and asked the man what was wrong. “I feel terrible,” he explained, “I accidentally hit this rabbit and killed it.” The woman told the man not to worry. She knew what to do. She went to her car trunk and pulled out a spray can. She walked over to the limp, dead rabbit, and sprayed the contents of the can onto the rabbit. Miraculously the rabbit came to life, jumped up, waved its paw at the two humans and hopped down the road. 50 yards away the rabbit stopped, turned around, waved and hopped down the road, another 50 yards, turned, waved and hopped another 50 yards. The man was astonished. He couldn’t figure out what substance could be in the woman’s spray can!! He ran over to the woman and asked, “What is in your spray can? What did you spray on that rabbit?” The woman turned the can around so that the man could read the label. It said: “Hair spray. Restores life to dead hair and adds a permanent wave.”
- If you perm your hair twice in opposite directions, does it come out straight?
On 1 Foot – Parshas Nasso
12 Princes came to the Mishkan dedication party all bringing the same gifts.
Princes: “We all brought the same thing?!”
Torah: “Let me write this all down… Name please? Tribe? Gift? Next….”
Longest parsha ever.