1. The Duties of the Levite Families. The tasks to be performed by the sons of Gershon, Kehoss and Merari were given. A census revealed 8,580 such individuals between the ages of 30-50 ready for service.
2. Purification of the Camps. Impure Israelites were to be sent out from the three camps (i.e., the innermost camp containing the Shechina; the middle camp of the Levi’im; and the outermost camp of the Israelites). According to the person’s level of impurity, he was required to leave some or all of the camps.
3. Four Laws Involving Kohanim
(a) Wrongfully keeping another’s property. If one confessed to wrongfully keeping another’s property, he must add 20% to the original amount, and bring a guilt offering to Hashem as atonement for his sin. If the original owner died without heirs, repayment was made to the Kohein.
(b) Sotah. A wife suspected for good reason of adultery was brought to the Kohein. If she confessed, the marriage ended in divorce. If not, she underwent the sotah process in which, after being warned, she drank “bitter waters” (i.e., a mixture of holy water from the laver and dust from the Mishkon floor). She then had to swear to the Kohein that if she was guilty, she would suffer harmful effects after drinking the waters. The words of the oath were written on a scroll and were blotted out in the water, which she then drank. If she was guilty, the physical deformities that resulted bore witness to her faithlessness, and she was accursed among her people and died. If she was innocent, no injuries resulted and she was promised the blessing of motherhood. (Two Notes: [a] if she died, her illicit lover also died; and [b] the sotah process only worked if the husband was himself free from sin.)
(c) The Nazir. A “Nazir” (one who voluntarily took an oath to become completely consecrated to the service of Hashem for a given period of time) was obliged to abstain from wine and strong drink made from grapes, cutting his hair and having contact with a dead body. If he accidentally defiled himself, he had to shave his head, bring an atoning sacrifice and begin anew the above-time period. When the time was up, he was required to bring a sacrifice, shave his head and have his hair burnt beneath the sacrifice; after the Kohein performed additional ceremonies, the Nazir was freed from any further restrictions and returned to a normal life-style.
(d) The Priestly Blessing. The Kohenim were instructed to bless the people with the following blessing: “May the L-rd bless you and keep you. May the L-rd make His Face shine upon you and be gracious upon you. May the L-rd lift up His Countenance on you and give you peace.”
4. The Mishkon. The Mishkon (Tabernacle) had been erected and dedicated on the first of Nissan in the second year after the Exodus. The leaders of the twelve Tribes jointly presented a gift of six wagons and twelve oxen for transport of the Mishkon and its contents, which gift was allocated among the Gershonites and Merarites (but not the Kehothites, who were obligated to carry the holiest of the vessels on their shoulders — Kol Dodi on the Torah notes that the Ark weighed approximately eight tons, not including the Tablets; thus, if four Levites were able to carry it, they were obviously aided by Divine assistance). Each of these leaders then brought identical gold and silver vessels and sacrificial animals and meal offerings on twelve successive days of dedication.
II. Divrei Torah
A. Lil’Mode U’lilamed (Rabbi Mordechai Katz)
The Priestly Blessing.
a. Material Wealth. The Kohen’s blessing states that “May Hashem bless you and watch over you”. If Hashem blesses us, doesn’t He also watch over us? We are requesting that Hashem “bless” us with material wealth, and “watch over us” to protect us from misusing such wealth. We must always remember that it is Hashem’s blessing that entitles us to our lot and, accordingly, remain humbly grateful for, and charitable with, whatever wealth Hashem bestows upon us. Rashi notes that the blessing for Hashem to “watch over us” also includes our wish to be protected from the dangers — both physical and spiritual — that wealth can bring about.
b. Praying to Hashem. When the Kohenim bless the people, they do something unusual — they face the people, not the Ark (and, symbolically, Hashem). Aren’t prayers usually directed towards Hashem? Hashem desires to bless His children; thus, there is no reason to ask Him to do so. Rather, the Kohen must direct his words to the people to urge us to act in accordance with Hashem’s will, so that we are deserving of Hashem’s blessing without the need for any intermediaries. (Talmud Yerushalmi)
B. Artscroll Chumash
Each of us has a role. The Parsha begins with Hashem’s instruction to Moshe to “take a census of the sons of Gershon, as well, . . . ” The phrase “as well” implies that the Gershonite census is related to the Kohathite census described earlier. The Kohathites carried the sacred parts of the Mishkon, which the Gershonites carried the less sacred parts. The words “as well” teach us that both tasks were necessary for the Tabernacle and that both were to be performed with equal joy. R’ Moshe Feinstein, zt’l teaches that this speaks to those who may be discouraged because they feel they are not as learned or wealthy as others; the Torah is reminding us that whether one bears the exalted Ark or only its hooks and curtains, every role is significant, because each person is a unique participant in the sacred service.
C. Soul Of The Torah (Victor Cohen)
Unity. The Lenchener noted that the priestly blessing is said in the singular. The greatest blessing that the Jews need is one of unity.
D. Wellsprings of Torah
Eternal Possessions. “And every man’s hallowed things shall be his; whatsoever any man gives to the priest shall be his.” What bearing does this statement on the portion dealing with robbery? Fools believe that the money that they have in their coffers is theirs, while the money they give to charity is no longer theirs. They therefore fill up their coffers with stolen goods. Actually, quite the opposite is true. Only those possessions given away for sacred purposes – “hallowed things” – remain the property of the original owner forever.
E. Love Thy Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Peace Between Husband and Wives. As noted above, the sotah process involved the priest giving the woman a drink in which was placed a portion of the Torah with G-d’s name. Of course, under normal circumstances it is forbidden to erase G-d’s name. It is, however, permissible in order to make peace between husband and wife.
2. Greeting Others With A Smile. “The L-rd shall make His Face shine upon you.” As we are required to emulate G-d, what is the practical application of this verse? To, as Shamei writes, “greet others with a cheerful countenance.”
F. Something To Say (Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser)
1. True Ownership. “And man’s holies shall be his, and what the man gives to Kohein shall be his.” The Torah tells us that an owner retains the right to decide which Kohein will be the recipient of his gift and that, once given to such Kohein, they are his property. The Kutno Rebbe reflects on the words “and they shall be his,” explaining that a miser is not the master of his money. Only one who is able to give of his wealth is considered its master. When one gives, he shows that the property is actually his and that he is able to control it property.
2. An Individual Gift. “May G-d bless you and safeguard you.” Despite the fact that the priestly blessing was recited before the entire congregation, it was phrased in the singular. One explanation is that it is not always possible, or wise, to give everyone the same blessing. For example, rain may be a blessing for a farmer but a hindrance for a traveler. Only G-d knows precisely what blessing is appropriate for each of us. He therefore tells the Koheinim to bless the people in the singular; each person should receive the form of blessing that is most appropriate for him/her.
G. Rabbi Frand on the Parsha
The Importance of Unity. The end of the Parsha describes the identical dedication offerings brought by the 12 tribes. Hashem was pleased by the fact that the tribes brought the safe offering – affirming the unity of the Jewish people – which He showed in an unusual way. As the Midrash notes, a korban yachid (personal offering), unlike a korban tzibbur (communal offering), was never brought on Shabbos. The tribal offerings were, however, brought on 12 consecutive days (including Shabbos), even though they were kobanos yachid. Since these offerings were intentionally identical in order to avoid jealously and hatred, since they promoted a sense of community and harmony, Hashem considered korbanos tzibbor and allowed them to be brought even on Shabbos.
H. Torah Gems (R’ Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)
1. Communal Responsibility. “When a man or woman will commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the L-rd, and that person be guilty . . . Then they will confess their sin. . . ” Why does the verse begin in the plural and then switch to the singular? The reason is that when an individual sins, the entire community is to blame, and all must examine their deeds and confess their sins. (R’ H.A. Zaichik)
2. Theft From G-d. “Then they will confess their sin which they have done . . . ” Why is the commandment to confess, which is the foundation for repentance for every sin, mentioned here in regard to theft? Every sin is one of theft – G-d gave us life and power to use to fulfill His will; if we use them to transgress His commandments, we are stealing from Him. (Hidushei HaRim)
3. Learning From Everyone. “And from the earth that is on the floor of the tabernacle the priest will take.” “From the earth” – from one who is considered to be insignificant – the priest is “to take”. Even the greatest of the great must learn from even the least of the least. (Ba’al Shem Tov)
4. A Blessing For Each Person. “Thus shall you bless” – bless the Jewish people as you find them. Do not look only to the best and brightest, for every Jew deserves to be blessed. (Modzhitzer Rebbe)
I. Vedibarta Bam (Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky)
1. A Happy Marriage. “A man a man whose wife shall go astray and commit treachery against him.” Why is “man” repeated twice? Marriage should be regarded as a holy union. For a marriage to be happy and long-lasting, each partner must recognize the other’s rights and respect the others’ opinions. If a man demands that his decisions be enacted or is oblivious to the needs of the household – if he is only concerned with himself (as alluded to by the double reference to “man”), he will spoil his family life.
2. A Role Model. “From new or aged wine shall he abstain.” The laws of a nazir apply only to the nazir himself; why, then, did the angel of Shimshon’s mother tell her that she should not drink wine (Judges 13:2-25)? Many parents fail to live by the same standards they set for their children. Parents are the role models for their children, and they must themselves exhibit the conduct they want their children to adopt. The angel was, thus, teaching her an important lesson – in order for Shimshon to property observe his restrictions, it was necessary that she too take on the restrictions of a Nazarite, and thus be a living example for him.
3. Giving Others A Blessing. According to Halachah, when the Kohein recites the priestly blessing he must raise his hands and stretch them out. What is the significance of this? While giving blessings is laudable, it is extremely important that we also “raise our hands” and “stretch them out” – that we actually do something to help the person in need.
J. Love Thy Neighbor (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
Greet Everyone With A Smile. “The L-rd shall make His Face to shine upon you . . . ” We are required to emulate Hashem. Thus, as Pirke Avos teaches, we should “greet each person with a cheerful countenance”. Remembering that each person is created in Hashem’s image helps us achieve this ideal.
K. Growth Through Torah (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
1. Being Free From Desire. The truly free person is one who is free from desire, “for the crown of Hashem is on his head.” Ibn Ezra writes, “the term ‘nazir’ comes from the Hebrew word for ‘crown’. Almost all people are slaves to the pleasures of the world. The only person who is truly a ‘king’ is one who is free from desire.” People who are addicted to pleasure mistakenly view themselves as fortunate; however, they are actually enslaved to those pleasures, and feel a tremendous sense of loss when they don’t have them. Their thoughts are more fixated on obtaining these pleasures than even enjoying them. Seeking pleasure can be an illusory goal, since a pleasure seeker is never truly fulfilled. Happiness is a much more worthwhile goal, and is obtained by being in control of one’s desires.
2. With unity there is blessing. Rabbi Moshe Leib teaches that the Kohen’s blessing is in the singular, rather than the plural, to highlight that the greatest blessing is togetherness; when the Jewish people feel that we are one unit, in this itself there is great blessing. It is easy to focus on the differences between people and to view yourself as separate from others. Truly no two people are alike. But, there are many common factors among people. By focusing on the fact that every person is created in Hashem’s image, we will have greater identification with others, which will lead to greater unity.
3. Avoid one upmanship in spiritual matters. During the twelve days of the dedication of the Mishkon, the leaders of the Tribes each brought an offering. Although their offerings were the same, the Ralbag teaches that the Torah repeats them over and over with all their details to teach us that one should not try to outdo another in order to boast or feel superior to him or her. The goal in spiritual matters is to serve Hashem, not to compete with others. One should strive to goal spiritually with pure intentions and together (and not in competition) with others.
L. Parsha Parables (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky)
Play it again, and again! Nosso is the longest portion of the Torah. It didn’t have to be that way, but the Torah choose to include 70 verses that same the same thing — over and over again. That is, the Torah separately details the identical offerings brought by the twelve tribes. What does this teach us? Many of our deeds are repeats of generations past. Many are repeats from yesterday. Yet, they are all beloved and cherished. Day after day, Hashem wants to hear the same prayers and see the same mitzvos and the same acts of lovingkindness and charity — they are all as dear to Him as the first time.
M. Living Each Week (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
1. Teaching by example. When Samson’s mother was told by an angel that the child she would bear would be a Nazarite, she was instructed that she too must abstain from wine and other strong drink (Judges 13:4). We can infer from this that if a parent expects a certain standard from the child, the parent must serve as an example and set that standard by action, not simply by instruction. Parents may think that by providing their children with a quality Jewish education they are fulfilling their obligation to direct their children towards proper living; however, as important and vital as formal education is, it can only reinforce that which the child observes at home.
2. Love and blessing. “Speak unto Aaron and his sons, saying ‘this is how you are to bless the children of Israel.'” This verse describes the method of bestowing a blessing. However, the priests had not yet been previously commanded to bestow a blessing. Why doesn’t the Torah state the commandment to bestow a blessing before describing the method for its implementation?
Aaron’s personality is described as “one who loved peace and pursued peace, one who loved people” (Pirke Avos 1:12). The Midrash interprets the verse in Proverbs (22:9), “one with a bountiful eye is blessed,” to also mean that one is who benign can also bestow blessings unto others. Hence, it was taken for granted that given Aaron’s (and, in turn, his sons) intense love for people, he would desire to bless them and that, accordingly, all that was needed was the method for doing so. The Talmud tells us that we must all be disciples of Aaron and emulate him. While the bestowing of formal blessings is a priestly function, one shouldn’t hesitate to offer one’s “blessing” to others. The Talmud’s instruction also reminds us that we should each adopt Aaron’s love for our fellow man and thus become one who naturally offers blessing.
3. Individuality. As noted above, the offerings of all of the leaders of the twelve tribes were identical. It is remarkable that the Torah describes in detail each such offering, particularly given the fact that we know that each word in the Torah has special meaning (in fact, many laws are derived from even a single word). Why then does the Torah elaborate about the offerings, when they could have been described much more succinctly? Rabbi Yitzchak Meir explains that while the offerings themselves were identical, each was an original offering for reasons of its own. Although each tribe chief brought the same offering, each one had his own reasons for doing so, and none simply imitated another. The Torah goes to such great length to emphasize the characteristic of individuality that is obviously of paramount importance. We live in age of “mass production” in many respects, yet we must never lose sight of the importance of individuality. Within the constraints of Torah law, there are many opportunities for individuality and creativity and it is these opportunities that have given vigor and vitality to Judaism throughout history.
N. Living Each Day (Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
Unauthorized Use Constitutes Theft. As noted above, one of the four tasks prescribed to the Kohenim related to property wrongfully kept by another. According to halachah (Jewish law), if one lends something to another for a specific purpose and he/she uses it for another purpose, it is tantamount to theft. By analogy, if we use (or rather “misuse) our G-d-given gifts for something other than Hashem intended (e.g., using our mouths to speak gossip rather than kind words or prayer; using our hands to steal rather than carry out acts of kindness), we too have committed theft.
O. In the Garden of the Torah (the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson, z’tl)
The elevating effect of Torah Study. Shavuos brings a person to a deeper connection to G-d; this is reflected in the name of this Parsha, “Nosso”, which means “lift up” (more particularly, the verse with which this Parsha begins is “lift up the heads…”) This teaches us two lessons: (a) the head, the seat of intellect, is the most developed part of our bodies. And yet the giving of the Torah enables us to “lift” our heads to a radically higher rung, by allowing a person to assimilate G-d’s wisdom into his/her thought processes; and (b) since this charge is associated with the Gershonites (who transported the Mishkon coverings), and not the Kehothites (who transported the ark containing the Tablets and the menorah, both of which are associated with Torah), it reminds us that Torah study shouldn’t remain an isolated spiritual activity; rather, it should elevate one’s service of prayer (the spiritual activity associated with the Gershonites) and every other aspect of our conduct, elevating ourselves and our environment.
P. The Midrash Says
A insight into Shabbos. The Midrash teaches us that one of the tasks of the Gershonites was to sing during the services; in the Temple, the choir of Gershonites would chant each day of the week a different chapter of Tehillim (Psalms). On Shabbos, they would sing “Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos” (“A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day”). This verse refers not only to the weekly Shabbos, but also to the era after the Redemption, the “great Shabbos of history”; the weekly Shabbos is given to us as a model for the future era, which will be totally and eternally good. Just as we labor each week in order to honor the Shabbos with delightful things, so we prepare in this world for the future world, when we will enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Q. Peninim on the Torah (Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum)
The “Vidduy”. “And they shall confess they sins.” The mitzvah of “vidduy” (confession) is the prime prerequisite for performing teshuvah (repentance). Indeed, without vidduy, the teshuvah process has no value. It is puzzling that the Torah choose to mention vidduy at this point, specifically in reference to the sin of stealing. The Chidushei Ha’Rim explains that every transgression committed by man consists of a form of theft. We are blessed with life, health and the ability to perform actions so that we can serve Hashem. To employ these G-d-given abilities in a way that violates Torah law is tantamount to theft — not only does it show ingratitude for these gifts, but it disdains its true purpose.
R. Divrei Torah (National Council of Young Israel)
Three kinds of peace. The concept of “shalom” (peace) is mentioned explicitly once, and implicitly twice, in this parsha. The explicit reference is in the priestly blessing, which concludes with a reference to “peace.” The implicit references are: [a] in the case of the sotah, concerning whom the Torah states that a portion of the Torah is dissolved in the bitter waters she must drink (Chazel note that this teaches us that marital peace and harmony is so important that even a portion of the Torah may be erased into the water in order to reunite the couple should she be found innocent); and [b] the leaders of the tribes who brought identical offerings on the first twelve days. As noted above, the Torah describes each offering separately. This teaches us the extent to which the Torah will go to avoid arousing feeling of jealousy and resentment among people. These three contexts of peace represent three areas where peace is vital: within the family, within the nation and universally among all people. These three types of peace must all co-exist.