Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah 35: Naso (Take) B’midbar (Numbers) 4:21-7:89
Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 13:2-25
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 21:17-32
The Jewish calendar picks up with Naso this week, citing other scriptures for the teaching last Shabbat. Although I taught specifically on the Nazirite vow from this parashah last week, the lessons covered this week are also from parashah Naso.
The book of Numbers is often thought to be one of the most repetitious, boring books of the Bible. But this statement only applies to those who are Torah-naive, either by chosen ignorance or because they have never been properly educated on the significance of the repetition and detail of the past as it applies to the present and future. After reading the first section of our parashah, we might come to the conclusion that all the detailed instructions about taking down and setting up the tabernacle and the tent of meeting, and who was assigned to what has no meaning for our contemporary or future society and the global community. The information in this parashah describes the tasks of the Levites during the period of traveling in the desert. Before each journey the Sanctuary would be dismantled by the Levites and then they would transport its various sections: the curtains, beams of cedar wood, and so on, until they reached the next stopping place. Then they would again set up the Sanctuary, while the rest of the Jewish people pitched their camp around it. So, what importance could this information possibly have for us and future generations?
The Sages tell us that the purpose of creation is that G-d should be revealed and “dwell” in this physical world. But this idea contains a difficulty when we consider HaSatan is the “Ruler of the powers of the air” (Eph. 2:2). The idea that G-d is revealed in a higher, spiritual world, in Heaven, is not difficult. A spiritual realm is by definition transparent to G-dliness. It shines with G-d’s holy radiance. But the statement that G-d should be revealed in the physical world in which we live is quite strange, especially considering the G-dlessness we see and experience on an increasing level. Unfortunate or tragic things sometimes take place, and a person might wonder: why did G-d let this happen? This often seems only one of two times we hear people mention His name at all. The other is when they want something.
The purpose of Creation is that instead of being hidden, G-d should be revealed here in this physical world; a world not of angels but of human beings. Our purpose in life is to glorify G-d. This purpose is a complete contradiction to what is taught in our world today; that there is no Divinity and man is the end all; get what we can as long as we can because once we die, it’s all over (secular humanism). In order that G-d may be glorified and revealed through us, something has to happen first. The world has to be changed in some subtle way, so that instead of hiding G-d, it will reveal Him. Knowledge demands action. Man’s knowledge leads to death but knowledge + wisdom from above yields the fruit of the spirit that will ultimately glorify G-d; a perfect equation for living.
Who has to achieve this change in existence? It is up to true believers to allow ourselves to be used by G-d in order to reveal Himself through our thoughts and ultimately our deeds. This is a learned behavior system; one that takes a lifetime of following the King’s highway through a wilderness journey known as life. This journey presents a learning curve that requires effort to achieve. That effort is in the form of Torah study, prayer, asking questions, internalizing new truths of G-d’s Torah, and living them.
The Sages tell us that this is the inner story of the Torah, all the way through. The Torah describes how we get into very difficult situations and then, by living through those situations with a focus on G-d, we actually have an effect on existence as a whole. This was the meaning in our slavery in Egypt; it is also the significance of the long journey through the desert.
Traveling through the empty desert and setting up the Sanctuary at every place where the Israelites stopped, was designed by G-d as a way of preparing the world to receive the ultimate Sanctuary, the Temple in Jerusalem. Now, thousands of years later, our journey through the world during our seemingly long exile, setting up lives and homes that are G-d-focused in Israel and everywhere else where people are called out by G-d to achieve His purpose for humanity, is preparing the world so that not just Jerusalem but the whole world will be filled with the Glory of G-d; even though it may be one person at a time.
How do we prepare the world? By keeping the mitzvot, including Torah study and prayer wherever we might be, whether in freedom or captivity. Only G-d knows why he chooses us to be placed in specific locals and certain circumstances when it seems there is no logic or “fairness.” G-d is our Judge and Provider. We could not have planned our lives as G-d did before we were born to achieve the purpose for which we were created.
Another main theme in this parashah is the nazarite vow that is another opportunity we may choose to consecrate ourselves for G-d’s service. We need to clarify the error in Christian art that portrays Yahshua with long hair, blue eyes, and an attractive face and the teaching that Paul renounced his Jewish loyalty to G-d’s Torah and became a Christian. In some Christian circles, they even teach that Paul took a nazarite vow because of peer pressure from his Jewish brethren and that he should be forgiven! As we shall see, the B’rit Chadashah (Refreshed Renewed Covenant) teaches differently and we need to discover the truth on this issue as with every other issue in the Bible.
First, Numbers 6:2 makes it very clear that a man OR woman may take the nazarite vow. The nazarite vow is a special vow taken for a time generally chosen by the individual between him or her and G-d. The specifics are listed in Num. 5:21. This was no inexpensive undertaking (Num. 6:13-21). Generally there were others in the community of Israel that supported the person taking the vow. This action illustrates the closeness of the community. There was no bickering about financial committees, who got what, and whether or not the person was “pious” enough to take the vow. The word nazarite comes from the Hebrew nazir meaning consecrated and nezer meaning separated. Much to the consternation of those calling themselves nazarites as placing themselves “above” other Messianic Jews, all true believers are nazarites in that we are consecrated and separated for G-d’s service. In no way are those who call themselves nazarites with an agenda of being more “true” to G-d and His Torah valid.
The nazarite vow could be taken for a lifetime as described by G-d’s command to Samson’s mother and Samuel. This is why Samson had long hair. G-d gave him strength through it because he was destined to be a nazarite throughout his life (Judges, 13:5; 16:6). Understanding this and the obligations of those taking the vow, we can understand why his power was taken when he succumbed to a woman from a pagan religion and failed to fulfill his vow to G-d (Judges 16:17). This was also a direct lack of honoring his mother as an obedient nazirite (Judges 13:3-4; 13-14). Still G-d used Samson in a mighty way in delivering the Israelites from the Philistines. More importantly for Samson, he gained spiritual insight after he lost his physical sight and was no longer distracted by the lust of the eyes. This takes us back to the idea of tzitziot in Numbers 15:37. Ironically, Samson killed more Philistines in his last act than he did his entire life (Judges 16:30). We can never underestimate the power of a heartfelt repentant prayer or how we may glorify G-d even in the midst of human adversity.
Christian scholars have a difficult time explaining why Paul took a nazirite vow when he supposedly converted to Christianity. One explanation is that he did it to keep the peace with the Jewish establishment and that the Christian community forgave him for his “weakness” in standing up to the establishment. Unfortunately, many Christian congregations believe this fallacy without ever researching the subject for accuracy. This would mean that Paul was disobedient to G-d’s Torah; G-d’s Law and his life’s mission to teach obedience to G-d’s Torah and not legalistic observance without the spirit of love. This is in contrast to the fact that Yahshua and Sha’ul (Paul) cautioned the people on the dangers of following rabbinic Torah (the Oral Torah) above and beyond what G-d’s Torah teaches. This is called the “traditions of men” in the Bible.
Expanding this false doctrine taught in many Christian churches and seminaries indicates Paul would also have eaten pork with those who ate pork, or would have partaken in any other behavior consistent with that of any culture pagan or not. Anyone who rightly divides the Word of G-d knows Paul was true to G-d’s Torah and taught against rabbinic, legalistic observance of G-d’s laws adding their own twist to the original Hebrew Scriptures. This is what Yahshua taught against also. This is the greatest obstacle to Christian understanding that G-d’s laws are not dead. To admit this fact requires a complete shift in thinking. It brings to light that we are not instantaneously saved and that no matter what we do, we are already forgiven. Rather, once we are reconciled to Yahshua (Jesus), we must learn to follow the King’s highway just as did the biological Israelites in the desert. We must willingly embark on our own wilderness journey and leave the comfort of a non-accountability system of belief.
The reasons for taking a nazirite vow are provided in the teaching I provided last week on this subject that may be located on the Parashah link at http://www.rabdavis.org under “Naso.” I encourage the reader to explore this teaching to gain a clearer understanding of the concept of the nazirite vow and how it may be used for G-d’s glory.
Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 13:2-25
This chapter describes G-d’s rescue of the people of Israel after a 40-year rule under the Philistines. Of course, this was not a straight-forward rescue. G-d works in mysterious ways. Man could never have predicted the use of Shimshon (Samson) in the way he was blessed and used by G-d, allowed to fall from grace with Delilah, and then redeemed through his self-nullification and repentance with his final mitzvoth being the destruction of more Philistines than he’d killed in his life. One lesson of many in this passage is that we must learn to trust G-d for our every need. Situations that may seem hopeless in our lives are in reality situations orchestrated or allowed by G-d to demonstrate His power and be glorified as the One True G-d. This is the whole point of living. We recited the Akdamus during Shavu’ot that contained several verses addressing this very point. Ezekiel 39:7 speaks against Magog in the context of the Gog/Magog war waged against Israel that will also result in the nations’ acknowledgement that G-d is Adonai; the Holy One of Israel. We read: “I will also send fire against Magog and against those living securely in the coastlands; then they will know that I am Adonai. I will make my holy name known among my people Israel; I will not allow my holy name to be profaned any longer. Then the Goyim will know that I am Adonai, the Holy One of Israel. Yes, this is coming, and it will be done,’ says Adonai Elohim; ‘this is the day about which I have spoken.’”
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 21:17-32
First, let us identify the author of the book of Acts and to whom it was written. Luke wrote this book to Theophilus who was a disciple of Sha’ul. It is thought the book was written around 61-64 A.D. The Book of Acts does not specifically identify the author but from Luke 1:1-4 and acts 1:1-3, it is clear that the author is the same. The narrative of importance in the context of this parashah describes how Sha’ul took a nazirite vow along with four others who had already taken the vow. Why did Sha’ul take the vow?
There are several explanations and opinions on this subject. One explanation is that James and the elders of Jerusalem heard of Sha’ul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Recall that the majority of Jews at this time were only acquainted with the written Torah and the Oral laws/traditions of men. They had not yet been introduced to the “grace” side of G-d’s Torah that taught the true intent and application of the Written Torah, or the problems with following the Oral Torah which is not the Written Torah of G-d. We must also remember that Sha’ul was a Pharisee and had also come from the same training as the Orthodox Jews of the time. He takes the time to tell the Jews of his experience with G-d who taught him Messianic Judaism; the truth of the resurrection and the component of grace that had to be applied in tandem with application of the written laws of G-d. Believing Jews were zealous for the Torah, but only as they had been taught without the infusion or inclusion of Yahshua’s teachings on the need for grace A he ND law in following Him/G-d. They were legalists and did not think Sha’ul was not upholding the laws according to rabbinic interpretation of the time.
Others were opposed to Sha’ul’s teachings related to Messianic Judaism taught by Yahshua (not Christianity). The leaders challenged Sha’ul to take the nazirite vow as a way to show the leaders and all who questioned him that he indeed stayed in line with the Torah. He had a difficult task in trying to keep the peace among the legalists while also holding to the teachings of Yahshua and not doing anything that would cause uncertainty among new Messianic Jewish believers who were learning that G-d’s Torah, not the traditions of men (Oral Torah) required the application of grace (the spirit of the law) when living and applying the letter of the law (G-d’s laws). Taking a nazirite vow violated neither the Orthodox rabbinic nor the Messianic Jewish positions on following G-d. Sha’ul showed everyone that he indeed followed the law of Moshe and did not teach that the laws of G-d had been abrogated as he followed them. Through this act, Sha’ul showed the people on both sides of the camp that he was demonstrating the Messiah, Yahshua, who was spoken of by Moshe and encompassed within his spirit. John 5:46 reads “For had ye believed Moshe, you would have believed me; for he wrote of me.” The challenge to Messianic Jewish believers has not changed. We must continue to follow G-d’s Torah by following His laws/commands/instructions with love.
Rabbi Tamah Davis -Hart