Parasha Naso

What task would you think makes me nervous? You may be surprised: it is making synagogue announcements. Standing up at the end of services and making announcements is still a slight challenge. I want to give warm but equal acknowledgment to all who have participated, as well as to those who fulfill the roles necessary to help the shul function. There are milestones to celebrate, mourners to comfort, and programs to promote.  I'm glad that our president attends most Saturday morning services to do all of this for me.

How much information is appropriate to share? What needs to be said in person, and what can be reserved for other forums? How do I avoid snubbing one person when praising another? How to balance the need to inform with the pressure to move quickly to kiddush? How do I correct the inevitable errors with grace? I worry about these things. These considerations may not strike you as momentous, but for me they represent core communal values-celebrating volunteerism and sensitivity to individuals.

"Carrying capacity" might be a good explanation for our parashah, Naso, which literally means, "lift up." This portion lacks exciting narratives, yet there is a sense of vast power embedded in it. The Levites are instructed to do their shipping tasks precisely-lest they die. They are also given definitive instructions on how to bless the Israelites in what has become one of the most familiar of Biblical text, the priestly benediction. Even the two non sequiturs of our portion, the regulations of the sotah (suspected adulteress) and the nazir (pious ascetic) are focused on controlling with ritual what are normally unregulated, emotional events.

The overall message of our portion seems to be that for Israel to function as a holy camp every person must have a designated role and each role must be acknowledged with explicit reference to the task performed. In truth, the Torah portion focuses only on certain classes of people.

Hasidic writer Rabbi Elimelekh Lipman (b. 1717 in Poland; known for his book of sermons, Noam Elimelekh) focused his teachings on the role of a tzadik, or righteous leader. Addressing our portion he discerned that Moses and Aaron were intent on "lifting up the head" of each person. Somehow, as saints they were able to discern the spiritual history (gilgul-playing on the synonym for head, gulgolet) of each member of their community and knew how to elevate each individual until the house of Israel could become a united front bringing divine presence into the world.

Naso is the longest portion in the Torah, and it generally comes just afterShavuot, when we are flushed with excitement after having received the Torah. What are we to do with this precious and somewhat overwhelming gift? We must use the Torah to lift up the heads of each person in our community, to give them all sacred tasks, to acknowledge them and to unite them into a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community. Announcing the efforts of our community, thanking those who contributed, and recruiting others to join-these are not minor tasks. These are the very essence of leadership, and they are the shared responsibility of the entire community. We must recognize our amazing volunteers, as well as our paid professionals.  We are constantly aiming to engage more Jews in the sacred work of our community. My hope and goal is that we will be lifting each of us up and giving our community the gift of an honored role in the continuing covenant between God and Israel.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham