Naso D’var Torah by Rachel Broomer

Shabbat Shalom,

5 years ago today I was standing on the Bimah and I was so short that if you were in the front row, all you could see was the top half of my head.  Now, half a decade later, I’m slightly taller, but I have also taken on a lot more responsibility.  Not just because I’m getting older, but by choice.  As a Jewish teenager, I’ve taken on more of my heritage and history.  I’ve let it become a part of who I am every day.  Interestingly enough, the Torah portion we just heard chanted was the exact same Torah portion I read when I became a Bat Mitzvah.  Little did I know, I’d end up giving a D’var Torah on that very special portion.

This week’s Torah portion talks about a lot.  There’s a census and Moses has to count all the families.  Then there’s this section that talks about what has to be done if a wife is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband and the horrifyingly degrading process she must go through whether or not she is guilty.  And then there’s a part that talks about the nazir and taking the nazir vow.  Basically, it means that if you want, you can partake in all these different rules and regulations like not coming in contact with a deceased body, not drinking any alcohol, and even cutting your own hair in order to dedicate yourself to God and show that dedication.  

When I first began to analyze this portion, there were a few spots that didn’t quite sit well with me.  Basically, there’s this ritual where if a woman is even suspected in the slightest of being unfaithful, she has to be put through this terrible practice and is basically made an example of and turned into a laughing stalk for the community, simply to prove that the community’s ideals must be upheld.  She is forced to drink muddy water and is told that if she has been unfaithful, the water will turn her into a curse for the entire village.  But if she has not, she will be unaffected.  Except, not really.  She has still been humiliated publically and desgraced in front of everyone she knows and loves.  Again, something isn’t quite right in that.

Then there is this Nazarite Vow.  So, you’ve got these people who are choosing to dedicate themselves to God by taking this vow and performing all these extra steps, just to prove the worthiness of their relationship with God.  This part of the Torah portion focuses a lot on the individual, whereas the previous part focused more on the community and its needs, rather than the needs of an individual.  Yet while these people are choosing to dedicate themselves to God, a set of actions that seems so holy, they are simultaneously separating themselves.  Are they just a group of people who are choosing to do something holy for themselves, or by taking this vow are they putting their relationship with God above others’?  For me, a very special part of Judaism is that having a relationship with God is such a personal choice.  It’s completely different for each and every person, and that’s more than okay. It makes your relationship unique and your own.  Another part of Judaism is not comparing these relationships or putting one over another.  But I think in a way, the Nazarites were doing that.  Should you really need to go through a process to gain a title just to prove that you are devoted to God?  One more time, there’s something that doesn’t sit right with me.

The last part of this Torah portion talks about this blessing that Adonai instructs Aaron and the priests to give to the Israelites.  It reads, “May Adonai bless you and keep you.  May Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you.  May Adonai bestow favor upon you and grant you peace”.  This is the same blessing I was blessed with when I became a Bat Mitzvah on this very Bimah so many years ago.  It’s a very famous blessing, and it’s used very often.  You’ll hear it at a B’nai Mitzvah, or a confirmation.  The interesting thing is that those are both events that are shared with the community, but still focus on the individual.

So now we’ve got three seemingly totally different parts of this portion.  But to me, I see a relationship.  When we look at the bitter drink, what the accused woman was made to drink, it’s putting the community over the individual.  It’s putting the needs and values that hold a community together over the needs and values of one person.  It sounds nice in theory, but from what I just explained about the way that ritual went, it’s not so great when it plays out.  It’s awfully one-sided and it completely ignores what the people need as people.  Then you have the Nazarite Vow, which focuses entirely on the individual.  It’s the opposite side of the same coin.  You’re no longer putting the community’s needs before your own; in fact, you’re putting your needs over those of the other members of the community.  You’re putting your relationship with God over that of another.  And then we get to this blessing.  This very famous blessing.  And it seems to be a little bit of both.  It’s written in the singular: “May Adonai bless you and keep you.”  And at the same time, it is a blessing meant to be shared with a community.  While it may be intended for one person, a B’nai Mitzvah celebrates welcoming a new member of the adult community; a confirmation celebrates the furthering of that maturity.  This blessing seems to bring in the best of both worlds.  It shows us that while we must always remember to do what is best for the community and respect the values of the world we live in, we must also take the time for ourselves to value us and the things we think are important.  

Perhaps that’s what makes the blessing so special.  Perhaps that’s why it’s used so often.  Maybe it’s meant to say more than just those few lines.  Maybe it’s a lesson in and of itself.