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Naso – A thought for the week by Mike Lewis

This week we read a very long Parasha - 176 verses. Superficially it seems to have a series of unrelated subjects. It contains the duties of  two named families, the laws of the Nazir, the laws of the Sotah ( the woman suspected of infidelity), uncleanliness, a list of the gifts by 12 tribes ( all the same and all repeated) and  the Priestly Blessing.

What seems to be a theme is that of “duties”; some that are inherent, some that we assume and some that are implicit.

The most recognisable inherent duty is what we see in “duchaning”, where the Cohanim recite the Priestly Blessing. There has, for many years, been controversy over this practice. Our own practice is always to call up more than one Cohen. In the Jerusalem Talmud Rav Huna states that “even if there is only one kohen (priest) present to say the blessing, the prayer leader should still cry out in the plural, “kohanim,” to show that it is the tribe, not the individual, that offers blessing”.

As for assumed duties we could cite the Nazir, who separates himself; seeming to aspire to a higher level of holiness. In the Torah it is not made clear whether this is a praiseworthy thing or just something that is permissible.  Setting yourself apart is not something that we, as Jews, encourage; we are a community.

As for implicit duties they apply to us all equally; the Parasha records that all the tribes bring the same offerings. In the modern world we often question what is relevant. We can choose to see the word duty in many ways. It can be seen as an obligation, as a necessity or as a willing acceptance of doing what is right. It is listening to “The still, small voice.”

Our obligations are not just to God but also to one another.

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