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Parashat Naso 5778: Finding one’s place in a sacred community

Giving the announcements at the end of the service is one of the hardest jobs in a Shul. Why? Because we want to give enough space and credit to so many different people, those who help with the services and the leyning, those who volunteer in different ways in the Shul, those who have personal events, mourners, people with Yartzeits, lessons, activities and so on. It’s hard not to forget somebody, to insult somebody, to balance the blessings and the place of each one. It is quite a delicate job.

Balances are hard! How much information to give? What has to be said in public and what in private afterwards in the Kiddush? How to praise somebody more that somebody else? How to balance the need to give information with the will of people to go home or eat in the Kiddush? How to fix mistakes in a… polite way? Maybe to somebody external all this sounds very trivial, but inside a community they are important things. People get insulted, others get angry, others emotional. They are important community values to recognize the work of volunteers, be sensitive to the needs of everyone and be aware of the rhythm and life of the community.

This reminds us of some of the subjects in our Parashah, Naso. God instructs Moses with very specific rules for the leaders of the congregation, priests and princes, cohanim and nesiim. The Parashah finishes with a long… long… long list of the nesiim of each tribe and their identical presents for the Sanctuary. This is the longest Parashah in the Torah and there are no emotional stories, and still there is something powerful on the specific order that we see through the Parashah. Control, order and precision are the center of Naso. There is a very specific order for the levites to carry the objects of the Sanctuary, specific instructions for the cohanim about how to bless the people. Even the two subjects not related only to the Sanctuary, the Sotah, the woman suspicious of infedility, and the Nazir, the nazarite, the Jewish version of a monk; are presented with very specific rituals to be done. Rituals created to control feelings that might get out of control.

The message of the Parashah seems to be that for Israel to work as a holy community each person needs to have a well-defined role and each person who finishes his/her role has to be evaluated publicly.  To be honest, the Torah only focuses on very specific kinds of people: first, only men. And from the men, only cohanim and nesiim. Today we try to be more inclusive and ensure that both men and women from all ages and backgrounds can participate in our community life. To recruit these people, to identify important and appropriate roles for them, to train them for the role and then to thank them and recognize their efforts, this is one of the core values of a sacred community; it is the fuel we need to function, the air we need to breath.

Rabbi Elimelech Lipman, from the first Hassidic Rebbes in Beliszensk, concentrated in his studies in the role of the Tzaddik, the righteous leader. About our Parashah he claimed that Moshe and Aaron wanted to “linso et harosh”, to raise the heads of every person. Tzaddikim can see the soul of everyone in their community and know how to raise him or her until everyone is in the correct place in order to help bring the Divine Presence to the World.

Parashat Naso is the longest Parashah in the Torah and it is read usually just after Shavuot, when we are happy with the giving of the Torah. What are we supposed to do with this valuable and powerful gift? We are supposed to use the Torah to raise ourselves, each one of the members of our Community, children and elders, men and women, founding and new members. To give them important roles, to recognize their efforts and unite everybody in a Sacred Community. To speak about the efforts of our community, to thank those that help and recruit others to join. All of these things challenging, but at the essence of being a community. It is the responsibility of each one to join and bring other men and women to help with the tasks of our community. It is not a favor that we ask, it is an opportunity to raise ourselves and receive the gift of a meaningful role in the eternal covenant between God and the People of Israel

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