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Naso – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

At 176 verses, Naso is the longest of the Parshiyot.  It contains what to modern eyes is the bizarre ceremony of the Sotah, the trial by ordeal of a woman, as well as the definition of a Nasir, one who dedicates himself to God. (Although, Samson and Samuel were dedicated by their respective mothers!)

In the main we read a continuation of Bamidbar, a seemingly endless series of lists: a census of people, their duties and the donations. But the word Naso is used to mean “lift the head” rather than simply to count. We are asked to look at every one as an individual.

So often we are faced with bare statistics. How many perished in the Shoah? How many children were in the Kindertransport? The yellow candle project gives us names and places. The incredible work of the 45’s committee keeps the faces and the stories of “the boys” as a living testimony. It is a blessing for us to keep these memories alive.

In older Jewish cemeteries, you will often come upon a tombstone decorated with a pair of hands, arched in a triangle with the fingers apart: It is the symbol of hands lifted to administer the priestly blessing that appears in the Sedra this week. These words were found etched on silver scrolls from tombs of the seventh century BCE; the age of Jeremiah and the last days of the First Temple. They are used by parents as they bless their children on Friday night. They are often said to the bride and groom under the chuppah and our Bar Mitzvah will be blessed by these words this Shabbat.  It is the simplest and most beautiful of all blessings.

יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָיָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּיִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
May Lord bless you and protect you; May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace
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