Parshat Naso

Torah Reading for Week of May 27- June 2, 2012

“Raise Up Your Head and Be Counted!”
By Rabbi Alicia Magal, ’03
Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, Arizona


Naso et rosh… “Raise up the heads…” of all the mature members of each tribe who can serve the community.  (from Numbers 4:21)

How proud I was as rabbi of this community in Sedona, Arizona, last year when six adult members of our congregation stood up and became b’nai mitzvah on Shabbat Naso. Each one had a story about why he or she was now ready to be counted on in a new way for “carrying” more of the burden of the congregation. Much as each tribe described in Naso was called upon to “carry” various parts of the architectural elements, sacred objects, equipment, and accessories of the portable Tabernacle in the desert, so these adult members were proud to have learned how to lead a service, chant Torah trop, offer a D’var Torah, and lend their knowledge and skills to the congregation, not only at this celebratory service, but also for future lay-led services. They joined committees, brought food for holiday pot luck meals, volunteered to make Bikkur Holim visits to the ill, participated in a newly-formed Chevra Kaddish team to attend to the dead with honor, and took on a mitzvah project.

Each one had a story about why he or she had not become a bar or bat mitzvah at the age of thirteen. One woman had grown up in the Conservative movement, and at twelve had read and commented on a Haftarah portion at a Friday evening service, but was not allowed to chant from the Torah on Shabbat morning as the boys in her congregation did. So she always felt that in some way she had only gone half way in the process of truly being counted, although she was included in the minyan. An Israeli-born woman had come to live in America at the age of eleven, and with the move and her family’s adjusting to life in their new land, they just hadn’t thought about it. This woman was fluent in Hebrew, served as Gabbait for many years, had tutored b’nai mitzvah students, but had never celebrated such a simcha for herself, so this was a long-awaited opportunity for her. One woman had converted to Judaism the year before, and wanted to continue her study of Hebrew and the structure of services. She joyously created beaded kippot for the rabbi and several women as part of her hiddur mitzvah creative project. Some were raised in totally secular homes, or were confirmed, or for other reasons didn’t feel they had “raised up their head and been counted” and were now ready to do this in a serious, conscious way. One man had suffered a brain injury in adulthood, and from being an acclaimed professor had needed years in rehab to relearn simple tasks. His grown children were moved to tears to see their father exhibiting material he had been able to learn that was new to him.

Each bar or bat mitzvah led one prayer and offered a D’var Tefillah, a short explanation of their own understanding of the prayer, about the “love sandwich” surrounding the Shema, for instance.  One woman told about how Ashrei with its logical, alphabetical order is followed by the joyous and expressive Halleluyah prayer, two prayers giving expression to the two sides of her: the first, logical and ordered, the second a full body manifestation of song and dance.

As each of the six adult b’nai mitzvah held the Torah, walked in procession, spoke from their heart, and offered their insights about the prayers and Torah portion, they lifted their heads high, and they glowed with the joy of being seen, being counted. Although one is automatically considered part of a minyan by age thirteen, there is something empowering about being acknowledged and witnessed by the community.

The message of Naso, which spends so much detail on counting the numbers in each tribe, and in describing the duties of each of the tribes, is to emphasize how vital each person is to the functioning of the whole group.

Perhaps our sanctuary is in a fixed space in a synagogue.  Perhaps we don’t move our arks and walls from place to place, but, in a way, we are ALWAYS setting up and taking down our Mishkan, our Tabernacle, through committee work, volunteer leadership, or physical upkeep of our facilities and organizations. The burdens of leadership still need to be shared, and each task, no matter how small or big, must be respected and honored.

Look around in your institution or synagogue. Invite people who have been quietly sitting on the sidelines to raise up their heads and be counted!  The rewards are great for them and for the community!

Shabbat Shalom.

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