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: Yochanan 7:53-8:11
This week’s parashah provides the source of more Biblical concepts to which we may refer when comparing the B’rit Chadashah (New, refreshed Covenant), to the Old Testament. Today we will discuss the nazarite vow in some detail and G-d’s impartial expectations when we approaching Him. First let us continue our discussion on the census.
Last week we learned about the census G-d commanded of those 20 years and older who were subject to military service, and of the entire assembly of the people of Israel (Num. 1:2-3). This week Moshe is commanded to take a census of the descendants of Gershon and M’rari. Who are these people you ask? If you looked up their names, you already know the answer to this question. Let’s look at each of these names.
Gershon was one of the sons of Levi. By the way, Gershon means stranger. We can already see a correlation between the sons of Levi and those who truly love and follow G-d. We read in Genesis 23:4 where Avraham explains his alien status to the sons of Ket in Hevron “I am a foreigner living as an alien among you…”This verse has implications reaching beyond the physical fact that Avraham was traveling through this land. It signifies our status in this world. Exodus 2:21 and 22 reads “Moshe [a Levite] was glad to stay on with the man, and he gave Moshe his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom[foreigner there], for he said, “ I have been a foreigner in a foreign land.”Another example is found in Psalm 119:19, “Though I am just a wanderer on the earth, don’t hide your mitzvoth from me… ” We are not to become comfortable with our existence here. This place is not our home whether or not we are found to be good and faithful servants.
The word M’rari means bitter. Genesis 46:11 identifies M’rari as another son of Levi, and K’hat was the third son. We learn of the awesome task given them by G-d in the previous parasha in Num. 4:15-20; “When Aharon and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy utensils, when the camp is about to move forward, then the descendants of K’hat are to come and carry them. But they are not to touch the holy things, so that they won’t die. These things are the responsibility of the descendants of K’hat in the tent of meeting.” Num. 4:17-20; “ Adonai said to Moshe and Aharon, ‘do not cut off the clan of K’hat from among the L’vi’im.; rather, do this for them, so they will live and not die: when they approach the especially holy things, Aharon and his sons are to go in-and you are to assign each one his task ;but the descendants of K’hat are not to go in and look at the holy things as they are being covered; if they do, they will die.”
Here’s another wonderful truth we could have missed had we not addressed these verses. In our parashah we do not find the responsibility assigned the descendants of K’hat as we do those of Gershon and M’rari. This fact alone should cause us to question why this is so. This is another example of searching the whole Torah for the answers to such questions. Some folks ask how G-d could kill Uzzah for reaching out to steady the ark as it was being transported on an ox cart and why David then became remorseful and placed it someplace else for a time. The above passage answers this question. The descendants of K’hat were the ONLY ones assigned and given permission to carry the covered furnishings and all the utensils, PERIOD. David knew this, but in his emotional joy, he compromised. His misguided joy didn’t impress G-d. The ark was to be carried on the shoulders of the descendants of K’hat, not on an oxcart. The rules had not changed. The practice of carrying the ark on a cart was a pagan practice used by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:1-8). It is a sad commentary that the Levites placed in charge of bringing the Ark back to Jerusalem just 70 years after its abduction by the Philistines, had no idea how to properly handle it. This is what happens when G-d’s Torah is not practiced and passed on no matter what our generation or where we live. Our children, grandchildren and fellow believers at all levels of spiritual maturity need to learn, practice G-d’s Torah consistently and by G-d’s rules. It is only by repetition such learning can take place. This is the crux of Deuteronomy 6:4; repetition and consistency.
Let us now examine the Nazarite vow. Take note that men and women may take this vow (Num. 6:2). This is a special vow taken for a time chosen by the individual between him or her, and G-d. The regulations for taking such a vow and ending it are described in detail in Num. 6:1-21. This vow was an extremely expensive undertaking (Num 6:13-21). Biblical scholars generally agree that three or four Jews not taking the vow might support one who did.
The word nazarite comes from the Hebrew nazir meaning consecrated and nezer meaning separated. An individual could choose to take this vow for a lifetime as did Samson and Samuel. This is why Samson had long hair. G-d had given him strength through it and through the fact that Samson was ordained by G-d to be a nazir at birth (Judges 13:5; 16:16). His mother was also ordained by G-d for such a role. (Judges 13:3-4:13-14). We learn an interesting fact in this passage. Samson was designated a nazir from the womb (Judges 13:5) conveyed to him through his mother’s obedience. G-d used him mightily in delivering Israel from the Philistines. However, when he succumbed to Delilah’s seduction and lost sight of his first love and his vow to Adonai, G-d removed his strength (Judges 16:17). Fortunately, this is not the end of the story. After his physical sight was taken and his head was shaven by the Philistines, Samson regained his spiritual sight. He prayed that he would be able to kill many Philistines for taking at least one of his eyes. G-d honored his prayer and Samson killed more Philistines at his death than he did during his life (Judges 16:30). How great the power of a repentant prayer! Samson became totally self-nullified for the glory of G-d. This is our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). “I exhort you, therefore, brethren, in view of G-d’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for G-d. This will please Him; it is the logical ‘Temple worship’ [reasonable service] for you.”
Christian scholars have a difficult time explaining why Sha’ul took a Nazarite vow when he supposedly was converted to Christianity on the Damascus road. Schreiner, who is a professor of New Testament interpretation in Louisville, KY maintained that Sha’ul’s “hypocritical behavior” must be excused. For when he was with Jews, he acted as one, and when he was with other groups of people, he acted according to the customs of the culture. This is of course erroneous and a gross misinterpretation of scripture. This would mean that Sha’ul was disobedient to the Torah of G-d that he spent his life sharing. The Christian interpretation of this narrative implies Sha’ul could eat pork with those who ate pork or partake in any other behavior consistent with that of the Ephesians, Galatians, or Corinthians, to name a few. Anyone who rightly divides the word of G-d knows Sha’ul was true to G-d’s Torah and taught against rabbinic, legalistic observance of the Torah as did Yahshua. So what is the Nazarite vow really about?
A Nazarite vow is essentially a renunciation of human desire. Someone may choose to take this vow to protect him or herself against a temptation that is particularly bothersome, or to experience a deeper form of holiness. There are mixed views on whether or not taking such a vow is good or bad. On the one hand the Torah calls one who takes the Nazarite vow “holy to G-d” (Num. 6:8). On the other hand, at the completion of the period of abstinence from wine and cutting the hair, the individual is commanded to bring a sin offering (Num, 6:13-14). We can look to Maimonides who holds both views, positive and negative. According to Maimonides, there is not one model of the virtuous life, but two. He calls them the way of the saint (Hassid) and the sage (Hakam).
The saint is a person of extremes according to Maimonides. He defines Hassid as extreme behavior that goes beyond what is considered socially accepted as good behavior. So, if one avoids haughtiness to the utmost extreme and becomes exceedingly humble, he is termed a saint (hassid) (Hilkhot Deot 1:5). A sage on the other hand, is a different kind of person. He follows the middle way of moderation and balance. He or she avoids the extremes of cowardice on one side, and recklessness on the other, thus acquiring the virtue of courage. The sage avoids the extreme of miserliness and renunciation of wealth, hoarding or giving away everything. The result is generosity rather than stinginess or foolhardiness. The sage knows the danger of extremes and looks for balance. Although Maimonides does not address Yahshua, this is the path Yahshua lived and taught. He found the perfect balance between the strict school of Shammai, and the lenient school of Hillel, and walked the middle course.
The saint and sage analogy represent two ways of understanding the Torah observant life. A saint may give all his or her money away to the poor. But what about the sage’s family? A saint may refuse to go to war, but what about fellow citizens? A saint may forgive all crimes committed against him or her, but what about upholding justice and the law? Saints are extremely virtuous people, but you cannot build a society of saints in isolation of sages. There must be a balance between the desire for personal salvation and collective redemption. Maimonides possessed this profound insight in describing what would initially appear as contradictory evaluations of the individual taking the Nazarite vow. The nazarite chooses for a period, to adopt a life of extreme self-denial. He or she is a saint; a hassid. But this is not the way of the sage that counterbalances the individual self-denial of the saint. Sages realize there are other people at stake; it is not beneficial to society as a whole to isolate oneself indefinitely on a path toward and increased level of self – virtue. We are called by God to live in the world, but not become part of the world. Therefore, while a personal perspective the nazarite is a saint, from a societal perspective he is, at least figuratively, a “sinner” who is required to bring an atonement offering. Yahshua taught us to seek the balance between the two types of personalities; the saint and the sage. By personally striving and learning to live a Torah observant life in obedience and love for G-d’s Torah, we must develop the courage through prayer and practice to demonstrate a Torah –driven life in the secular world. We must incorporate the attributes of the sage and the saint. This can only be accomplished through the grace of HaShem through the Ruach HaKodesh, our prayers and diligent study of G-d’s Torah, and our actions based on our belief and trust in Yahshua’s faithfulness.
Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 13:2-25
This is the story of 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 had 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 Samson’s 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. Ezekiel 39:7 speaks against Magog in the context of the Gog/Magog war waged against Israel. We read in this passage, “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: Yochanan (John) 7:53-8:11
This passage takes us back to the narrative in our parashah concerning a woman who becomes impure by lying with another man. But before we address this, we must understand that in the passage in John, the Torah teachers and the Pharisees were trying to trap Yahshua. Under Roman rule it was illegal for Jewish courts to enforce a death sentence, but that did not always succeed in preventing them (Acts 7:58-9). Furthermore the Torah states in Lev. 20:10, “ If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, that is, with the wife of a fellow countryman, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”However there is a difference in what happened in this account and that of our parashah. In John 8:3 the woman was caught in the act of lying with a man. Just what happened to the man we are not told. Regardless, in the parashah, G-d established the test of purity for a woman whose husband was suspicious of her but had no proof that she was unfaithful. Num. 5:13 states “ if another man goes to bed with her without her husband’s knowledge, so that she becomes impure secretly, and there is no witness against her, and she was not caught in the act;…”In John, the accusers make her stand in the middle of the group (John 8:3). In Num. 5:15 the woman was to be taken to the Cohen with an offering for the husband’s jealousy. The woman was then taken to stand alone before Adonai. The Torah teachers and the Pharisees unknowingly placed the woman before YHVH/Yahshua, yet there was no husband present to condemn her of adultery. With no husband to condemn her, there was no reason to judge her (John 8:10-11). Yahshua’s response showed four things: He was not against the Torah, He was merciful toward the woman, He opposed her sin (Ex. 20:14), and He could silence hecklers and put them to shame (compare Mt. 22:46). YHVH/Yahshua knows our motives before we ever act. We must examine ourselves carefully and often. A woman who was not made impure by sleeping with another man also had to be taken before the Cohen and tested. In this case, the innocent woman was blessed with children and her husband’s jealousy was laid to rest. G-d takes care of His own.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart