Parashat Naso Numbers 4:21-7:89
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Questions for Young Children
• Do your parents bless you on Shabbat? How does that make you feel?
• How do you feel if you bring the least important present to a birthday party?
• Can you count how many presents each tribe brings to the dedication of the Tabernacle? What do you notice about their gifts?

Questions for Older Children
• From your knowledge of Yom Kippur, what is the Jewish attitude about vows? Does it surprise you to read about the Nazirites’ vow in Bamidbar?
• Nazirites set themselves apart from the other Israelites by their appearance and by their actions. Do you think it’s a good idea for groups to separate from the community? Why or why not?
• If you were going to wish for a blessing for someone, what would you wish for? What do the Kohanim wish for their fellow Israelites?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• The Nazirites’ vow to not cut their hair and not to drink alcohol resonates with many religions and many taboos. Can you think of any other religious groups that focus on these two symbols?
• What’s your reaction to the trial by ordeal of a woman accused by her husband of adultery? Do you see any built-in deterrent to a husband against randomly accusing his wife of adultery without reason? Do you think the ordeal “works?”
• Another word in English for alcohol is “spirits.” Some commentators claim that alcohol was banned for Nazirites because it was in competition with Divine commandments. People’s behavior changes when they consume alcohol so they might not adhere to the commandments as they should. Do you think there’s any reason the word “spirits” is a synonym for alcohol in English?
• Why do you think Nazirites disappeared from Judaism?

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Naso includes a variety of laws that, on first glance, seem to be disconnected from each other. Of course, that's an invitation to search for a connection. One theme threading throughout the parasha is that God’s presence pervades all that we do. The ordinary and sacred are not two separate realms. By following God’s laws we can transform the ordinary to sacred and the opposite is also true. By ignoring God’s laws, we can defile the sacred. This parasha includes the rules for Nazirites, a self-selected group (notice it includes men and women) that vows to serve God by following more stringent mitzvot than the ordinary Israelite. One prohibition was drinking alcohol. In chapter seven, the topic switches to readying the Mishkan (Tabernacle) for use and a long section about the sacrifices each tribe brought to the Mishkan. Immediately before we learn Moshe finished setting the Mishkan,  God commands Moshe to communicate the priestly blessing to Aharon .(Numbers 6:22-26) 

Find the food connection...

אִישׁ אוֹ-אִשָּׁה, כִּי יַפְלִא לִנְדֹּר נֶדֶר נָזִיר--לְהַזִּיר, לַיהוָה. ג מִיַּיִן וְשֵׁכָר יַזִּיר, חֹמֶץ יַיִן וְחֹמֶץ שֵׁכָר לֹא יִשְׁתֶּה; וְכָל-מִשְׁרַת עֲנָבִים לֹא יִשְׁתֶּה, וַעֲנָבִים לַחִים וִיבֵשִׁים לֹא יֹאכֵל

If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters a Nazirite vow, to set himself apart for the Lord, he shall abstain from wine and any other intoxicant; he shall not drink vinegar of wine or any other intoxicant, neither shall he drink anything in which grapes have been steeped, nor eat grapes fresh or dried.

--Numbers 6:2-3

Wine!

 

The Side Dish
The recipe focuses on wine but this column moves to a completely different issue in the parasha, the sotah (adulterous woman).  An entire section of Talmud is devoted to sotah.  Did you take a good look at the parasha’s prescribed trial by ordeal for the sotah (adulterous woman)? It's a drink--mayim marim, bitter water. It's not tonic water or Angostura, but a drink that will kill you if guilty and leave you unharmed if you're innocent. If you think that’s an odd Jewish law and think the trial by ordeal was a torture devised by medieval Christians and Puritans to discover who was a witch, you’re not alone with that thought. There is only a singular occurrence of knowing God’s will through ordeal in the Torah and this is the week we read about it. Another person who thought the bitter waters trial by ordeal was strange was Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai who abolished the practice at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple.

I have always marveled at the courage of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. When I compare his decree post destruction of the Temple, it stands in stark contrast to the practices of other nations when they suffered defeat and destruction. Usually, one encounters vengeance and violent upheaval with the victims on the hunt for a scapegoat to blame for their troubles. Frequently, women and minorities are targeted. When a plague hit a town in medieval Europe, there were cries of witchcraft against women who did not follow normative behavior or accusations that Jews had poisoned the wells. Rather than turn on his own people, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai led his ravaged people to reimagine Judaism without their Temple and remain a people of compassion. We are more than a building or a place; our laws bespeak our values.

 

 

 

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A Dash of Hebrew
The Hebrew phrase for the concoction that the accused woman drank is mayim marim, translated as “bitter waters.” For those of you who know Hebrew, you may wonder why this phrase is plural. In English, it’s in the singular. Hebrew and English differ when it comes to collective nouns. Shamayim, sky, is another example of a plural noun in Hebrew that takes a plural adjective while in English it’s singular.

A Dash of Editing Conundrum
The placement of the Priestly Blessing at the end of chapter 6, a chapter that deals with the Nazirite, seems odd.  It also seems odd that the priestlty benediction and God's command to Moshe to relay this to Aharon precedes the announcement that Moshe finished setting up the Tabernalcle.  In fact, during the first ritual use of the Mishkan it looks like Moshe is an intermediary between the people and the Levites as he accepts the offerings from the Israelites and then gives them to the Levites. You might expect the kohanim to bless the people at the end of the catalog of sacrifices, but the list concludes in chapter seven by descrbing how Moshe communicated with God in the Ohel Mo'ed. Imagining or believing that the verses were arranged purposefully and not randomly, how can you explain the flow of events?  

A Dash of Oenophilia
What makes wine kosher? A kosher wine is produced, handled and supervised by observant Jews. If you haven’t tried kosher wine other than my favorite, Concord grape, you might be surprised to discover that Wine Spectator rates kosher wines and some of them approach the 100 rating. When you buy Israeli wine you can drink red, white, and blue all at the same time.

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Non-Nazirite Chicken
Serves  6-8 (can be gluten-free)

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups dry red wine rsz 02 naso photo wine bottle copy
  • ½ cup soy sauce (to make this gluten free, check your soy sauce)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. oregano
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 4 whole chicken breasts with bone in or 8 boneless chicken breasts

Directions

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken.
  2. Refrigerate for at least an hour. It’s even better if marinated overnight.
  3. Bake @375º about 1 hr. for chicken with bone in and about 40 min for boneless chicken breasts.

Good served with rice and garnished with fresh oregano.

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