Torah Reading for Week of May 16-22, 2021
“Raise Up Your Head!”
By Rabbi Alicia Magal, ’03
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
Naso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89) begins with the command to raise up the head of the Gershonites so that the clan of the Levite tribe can learn their duties – including carrying the cloths of the Tabernacle, Tent of Meeting, hangings of the enclosure, screen, cords, altar, accessories, and reassembling them at each new encampment. The other clan-families also got their assignments so that it was clear how the Mishkan was to be taken apart and carried with all the ceremonial objects when the Cloud of Glory gave the signal to move and guided the Israelites through the wilderness to the next encampment.
However, in our day, the reverberation of the key word of the portion NASO, raise up and be counted, pertains to all of us in the greater congregation of Israel. In this portion we also hear the priestly blessing which traditionally was handed down through the lineage of Aaron to the Cohanim, but now is also offered by clergy at special services and life cycle ceremonies, and spoken with loving tenderness at the Shabbat table by parents to children. I have had the very moving honor over this past year of chanting a blessing for the boys, for the girls, and this priestly blessing for everyone present over Zoom each Friday night with dozens of family members and friends of Tovah Feldshuh, my life-long friend. My hands are in the form of a shin, through which flows the powerful cadence of the blessing:
Yevarecha Adonai v’yishmerecha, etc…
May God bless you and protect you;
May God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May God’s presence bring you the greatest gift of all – wholeness, peace, shalom.
That is my translation that reflects the transfer of life-affirming energy inherent in this ancient blessing.
This idea of being lifted up to receive a blessing is also felt at the Festival of Shavuot which falls during the week when Naso is read. We have been counting the 49 days during the 7 weeks of the Omer period since Passover. That period in the ancient world of watching crops develop into mature wheat to be harvested also represents on another level for us the maturing of our souls as we reflect on the energies of the kabbalistic sephirot. The count begins with hesed, the generous flow of lovingkindness that God showed in enabling us to leave the tight place of oppression and slavery and continues as we make our way to malchut, a day-by-day refinement of our characteristics in readiness for receiving Torah at Mt Sinai on Shavuot. This year our counting the Omer check-In group used various sources with explanations of each of the daily energies within the context of the weekly sepharotic powers. Several members of the group enjoyed the added dimension of examples of the Four Worlds representing Assiyah – Action, Yetzirah – Emotions, Briyah – Thinking, and Atzilut – Spirit through examples offered by my friend and colleague Rabbi Min Kantrowitz in her book Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide, Gaon Books.
Through the experiences of reaching Shavuot, and of taking in the blessings of Naso, we have lifted up our consciousness and received the blessing of Torah, the divine gift that still today inspires us to delve more deeply into its teachings.