Note: Since Shavuot is only one day in Israel, Naso was read last week there.
Comments are from 2018, with a 2020 addendum to my hair history.
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,(2012) 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 sotahritual 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 (May 12, 2018). 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 clippings 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…
2020 Addendum on color issues:
When my mother was in her early 50’s, she showed me a portrait photo of herself and asked my opinion. I said it made her look tired. I did not mention her hair. Shortly after that, she had her hair dyed. Eventually, maybe 35-40 years later, she stopped. It was then a beautiful white.
When my hair started to turn, uh, silver, I didn’t mind at first. Silver temples and streaks against the dark brown looked really cool. But by my mid-40’s, I saw a photograph of myself and I looked – tired. After a year of waffling, I finally started coloring my hair. Now, about 3 months after my last hairdresser appointment, there’s about 1 ¼” of silver next to my scalp, enough to see what it would look like if I just let it go. I’ve decided it’s not time and will try to wait until it is white, like my mother’s.
By the way, my mother’s maternal grandmother, Esther Dyna, had reddish brown hair that did not turn gray (No, she didn’t wear a wig. Her rabbi told her she didn’t need to; this was America.). Her daughter, my great-aunt Hattie, had dark hair into her 80’s, with just a few silver strands. She was a very modern lady, so we all thought she dyed it, except for my grandmother (her older sister). Then Hattie was in the hospital for a few weeks, and it grew in black. Unfortunately, that gene appears to have been lost from the family.
Parshas Nasso – On 1 Foot
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.
My friend asked me, “Why are you getting a divorce?” I responded, “My wife wasn’t home the entire night and in the morning she said she spent the night at her sister’s house.” He said, “So?” And I responded, “She’s lying. I spent the night at her sister’s house!”
A man is about to enter a meeting at work when he realizes that he forgot some important paperwork. He calls home so that his wife can retrieve them. The maid answers the phone and says that his wife is busy. He demands that the maid put his wife on the phone. The maid informs the man that his wife is in bed with the gardener. The man goes nuts, and offers the maid one million dollars to shoot them both. The maid agrees and he soon hears two gunshots. The maid returns to the phone and he asks her what happened. The maid says she shot his wife in bed and the gardener ran, so she shot him by the pool. The man says, “Pool??? Is this 555-4320???”
Peter sat at his dying wife’s bedside. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Pete darling,” she breathed, “I’ve a confession to make before I go… I… I’m the one who took the $10,000 from your safe. I spent it on a fling with your best friend, Alex. And it was I who forced your mistress to leave the city. And I am the one who reported your income tax evasion to the government.” “Don’t give it a second thought, sweetheart. Who do you think gave you the poison?” answered Peter.