Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah 35: Naso (Take) B’midbar (Numbers) 4:21-7:89
Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 13:2-25
B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan 7:53-8:11
The book of Numbers is often thought to be one of the most repetitious, boring books of the Bible. But this statement only applies to those who are Torah-naïve, either by chosen ignorance or because they have never been properly educated on the significance of the repetition and detail of the past as it applies to the present and future. After reading the first section of our parashah, we might come to the conclusion that all the detailed instructions about taking down and setting up the tabernacle and the tent of meeting, and who was assigned to what has no meaning for our contemporary or future society and the global community. The information in this parashah describes the tasks of the Levites during the period of traveling in the desert. Before each journey the Sanctuary would be dismantled by the Levites and then they would transport its various sections: the curtains, beams of cedar wood, and so on, until they reached the next stopping place. Then they would again set up the Sanctuary, while the rest of the Jewish people pitched their camp around it. So, what importance could this information possibly have for us and future generations?
The Sages tell us that the purpose of creation is that G-d should be revealed and “dwell” in this physical world. But this idea contains a difficulty when we consider Hasatan is the prince of the air (Eph. 2:2). The idea that G-d is revealed in a higher, spiritual world, in Heaven, is not difficult. A spiritual realm is by definition transparent to G-dliness. It shines with G-d’s holy radiance. But the statement that G-d should be revealed in the physical world in which we live is quite strange, especially considering the G-dlessness we see and experience on an increasing level. Unfortunate or tragic things sometimes take place, and a person might wonder: why did G-d let this happen? This often seems only one of two times we hear people mention His name at all. The other is when they want something.
The purpose of Creation is that instead of being hidden, G-d should be revealed here in this physical world; a world not of angels but of human beings, cars, shops and computers. Our purpose in life is to glorify G-d. This purpose is a complete contradiction to what is taught in our world today; that there is no Divinity and man is the end all; get what we can as long as we can because once we die, it’s all over (secular humanism). In order that G-d may be glorified and revealed through us, something has to happen first. The world has to be changed in some subtle way, so that instead of hiding G-d, it will reveal Him. Knowledge demands action. Man’s knowledge leads to death but knowledge + wisdom from above yields the fruit of the spirit that will ultimately glorify G-d; a perfect equation for living.
Who has to achieve this change in existence? It is up to true believers to allow ourselves to be used by G-d in order to reveal Himself through our thoughts and ultimately our deeds. This is a learned behavior system; one that takes a lifetime of following the King’s highway through a wilderness journey known as life. This journey presents a learning curve that requires effort to achieve. That effort is in the form of Torah study, prayer, asking questions, internalizing new truths of G-d’s Torah, and living them.
The Sages tell us that this is the inner story of the Torah, all the way through. The Torah describes how we get into very difficult situations and then, by living through those situations with a focus on G-d, we actually have an effect on existence as a whole. This was the meaning in our slavery in Egypt; it is also the significance of the long journey through the desert.
Traveling through the empty desert, and setting up the Sanctuary at every place where we stopped, was a way of preparing the world as a whole to receive the ultimate Sanctuary, the Temple in Jerusalem. Now, thousands of years later, our journey through the world during our long exile, setting up lives and homes that are G-d-focused in Israel, Britain, the USA, Australia and Hong Kong and everywhere else where people are called out by G-d to achieve His purpose for humanity, is preparing the world so that not just Jerusalem but the whole world will be filled with the Glory of G-d; even though it may be one person at a time.
How do we prepare the world? By keeping the mitzvot, including Torah study and prayer, wherever we might be, whether in freedom or captivity. Wherever we are, and every moment, we achieve the transformation of the world so that G-dliness can be revealed in every aspect of life for everyone, fulfilling the purpose of creation.
Another main theme in this parashah is the nazarite vow that is another opportunity we may choose to consecrate ourselves for G-d’s service. We need to clarify the error in Christian art that portrays Yahshua with long hair, blue eyes, and an attractive face and the teaching that Paul renounced his Jewish loyalty to G-d’s Torah and became a Christian. In some Christian circles, they even teach that Paul took a nazarite vow because of peer pressure from his Jewish brethren and that he should be forgiven! As we shall see, the B’rit Chadashah (Refreshed Renewed Covenant) teaches differently and we need to discover the truth on this issue as with every other issue in the Bible.
First, Numbers 6:2 makes it very clear that a man OR woman may take the nazarite vow. The nazarite vow is a special vow taken for a time generally chosen by the individual between him or her and G-d. The specifics are listed in Num. 5:21. This was no inexpensive undertaking (Num. 6:13-21). Generally there were others in the community of Israel that supported the person taking the vow. This action illustrates the closeness of the community. There was no bickering about financial committees, who got what, and whether or not the person was “pious” enough to take the vow. The word nazarite comes from the Hebrew nazir meaning consecrated and nezer meaning separated. Much to the consternation of those calling themselves nazarites as placing themselves “above” other Messianic Jews, all true believers are nazarites in that we are consecrated and separated for G-d’s service. In no way are those who call themselves nazarites with an agenda of being more “true” to G-d and His Torah valid.
The nazarite vow could be taken for a lifetime as described by G-d’s command to Samson’s mother and Samuel. This is why Samson had long hair. G-d gave him strength through it because he was destined to be a nazarite throughout his life (Judges, 13:5; 16:6). Understanding this and the obligations of those taking the vow, we can understand why his power was taken when he succumbed to a woman from a pagan religion and failed to fulfill his vow to G-d (Judges 16:17). This was also a direct lack of honoring his mother as an obedient nazarite (Judges 13:3-4; 13-14). Still G-d used Samson in a mighty way in delivering the Israelites from the Philistines. More importantly for Samson, he gained spiritual insight after he lost his physical sight and was no longer distracted by the lust of the eyes. This takes us back to the idea of tzitziot in Numbers 15:37. Ironically, Samson killed more Philistines in his last act than he did his entire life (Judges 16:30). We can never underestimate the power of a heartfelt repentant prayer or how we may glorify G-d even in the midst of human adversity.
Christian scholars have a difficult time explaining why Paul took a nazarite vow when he supposedly converted to Christianity. One explanation is that he did it to keep the peace with the Jewish establishment and that the Christian community forgave him for his “weakness” in standing up to the establishment. Unfortunately, many Christian congregations believe this fallacy without ever researching the subject for accuracy. This would mean that Paul was disobedient to G-d’s Torah; G-d’s Law and his life’s mission to teach obedience to G-d’s Torah and not legalistic observance without the spirit of love. This is in contrast to the fact that Yahshua and Sha’ul (Paul) cautioned the people on the dangers of following rabbinic Torah (the Oral Torah) above and beyond what G-d’s Torah teaches. This is called the “traditions of men” in the Bible.
Expanding this false doctrine taught in many Christian churches and seminaries indicates Paul would also have eaten pork with those who ate pork, or would have partaken in any other behavior consistent with that of any culture pagan or not. Anyone who rightly divides the Word of G-d knows Paul was true to G-d’s Torah and taught against rabbinic, legalistic observance of G-d’s laws adding their own twist to the original Hebrew Scriptures. This is what Yahshua taught against also. This is the greatest obstacle to Christian understanding that G-d’s laws are not dead. To admit this fact requires a complete shift in thinking. It brings to light that we are not instantaneously saved and that no matter what we do, we are already forgiven. Rather, once we are reconciled to Yahshua (Jesus), we must learn to follow the King’s highway just as did the biological Israelites in the desert. We must willingly embark on our own wilderness journey and leave the comfort of a non-accountability system of belief.
So what makes the nazarite vow necessary in someone’s life? This vow may be taken to protect an individual from a particularly bothersome weakness or temptation, or to experience a deeper level of holiness. There is debate over whether or not taking such a vow is good or bad. On one hand, the Torah calls one who takes the nazarite vow “holy to G-d” (Num. 6:8). On the other hand, at the completion of the vow the individual is commanded to bring a sin offering (Num. 6:13-14). We can look to the explanation of Maimonides that states there are two models of the virtuous life. This explanation is interesting because it is a perfect description of Yahshua’s teaching style and life.
Maimonides defines chesed (unmerited kindness) as extreme behavior; good behavior that is in excess of what strict justice requires. YHVH/Yahshua’s patience with us is just such an example. A sage on the other hand is a different type of person. A sage avoids the extremes of cowardice on one side and recklessness on the other, thus acquiring the virtue of courage. The sage avoids the extremes of miserliness and renunciation of wealth, hoarding or giving away everything. The result is generosity (Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35; Prov. 11:24-5; Matt. 6:21) taught by Yahshua rather than stinginess (Matt. 6:22-23; Prov. 23:6; Prov. 28:22; Mark 7:22; or foolhardiness. The Biblically attuned individual learns the difference between too much and too little. This individual weighs conflicting pressures and avoids extremes. Yahshua’s balance between the teachings of Shammai and Hillel schools of thought are a perfect example of this concept. The saint and sage analogy represents two ways of understanding the Torah observant life. A saint may give all of his or her money to the poor. But what about the sage’s family? A saint may refuse to go to war, but what about the fellow citizens? A saint may forgive all crimes committed against him or her, but what happens to upholding justice and the law? A saint may choose to refuse medical advancements that are shown to advance the health of themselves or the community, but what happens of the entire community chooses that same course of action and the subsequent increase in various diseases? Saints are extremely virtuous people, but you cannot build a society in isolation of sages. We cannot strive to become so heavenly minded that we become no earthly good! There must be a balance between the desire for personal salvation and collective redemption. We must relinquish the instinctive selfish attitude of every man for himself and learn to discern between actions for the good of everyone eating from the same pasture of G-d’s Torah.
Maimonides possessed this profound insight in describing what would initially appear as contradictory evaluations of the individual taking a nazarite vow. The nazarite chooses to adopt a lifestyle of extreme self-denial. In this context, he or she is a saint. But this is not the way of the sage that counterbalances the individual self-denial of the saint. Sages realize there are other people at stake. Think about this in the context of your own congregational family. Does our speech and actions serve to glorify G-d before men, or do they undermine the very fabric of fellow-believers? We need to think about this very carefully as we continue our life journey. It is not beneficial for society as a whole to isolate oneself indefinitely on a path toward an increased perceived level of self-virtue. We are called by G-d to live in the world, but to become of the world. Therefore, while from a personal perspective the nazarite is a saint, from a societal perspective he is at least figuratively a “sinner” who is required to bring an atonement offering. This is the way of G-d. Yahshua taught us to seek balance between two types of personalities; the saint and the sage. The only way we can accomplish this is to continually study G-d’s Torah, pray for understanding of what we read from the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), and internalize and act upon that which we learn. Is it wrong to take a nazarite vow? Of course not. However, if one chooses to take this vow, it should be taken between the individual and G-d and not become a subject of boasting.
Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 13:2-25
This chapter describes G-d’s rescue of the people of Israel after a 40-year rule under the Philistines. Of course, this was not a straight-forward rescue. G-d works in mysterious ways. Man could never have predicted the use of Shimshon (Samson) in the way he was blessed and used by G-d, allowed to fall from grace with Delilah, and then redeemed through his self-nullification and repentance with his final mitzvoth being the destruction of more Philistines than he’d killed in his life. One lesson of many in this passage is that we must learn to trust G-d for our every need. Situations that may seem hopeless in our lives are in reality situations orchestrated or allowed by G-d to demonstrate His power and be glorified as the One True G-d. This is the whole point of living. We recited the Akdamus during Shavu’ot that contained several verses addressing this very point. Ezekiel 39:7 speaks against Magog in the context of the Gog/Magog war waged against Israel that will also result in the nations’ acknowledgement that G-d is Adonai; the Holy One of Israel. We read: “I will also send fire against Magog and against those living securely in the coastlands; then they will know that I am Adonai. I will make my holy name known among my people Israel; I will not allow my holy name to be profaned any longer. Then the Goyim will know that I am Adonai, the Holy One of Israel. Yes, this is coming, and it will be done,’ says Adonai Elohim; ‘this is the day about which I have spoken.’”
B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan (John) 7:53-8:11
This passage takes us back to the issue of a woman who becomes impure by lying with another man. But before we address this, we must understand that the Torah teachers and the Pharisees were trying to trap Yahshua. Under Roman rule it was illegal for Jewish courts to enforce a death sentence, but that did not always succeed in preventing them (Acts 7:58-9). Furthermore the Torah states in Lev. 20:10, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, that is, with the wife of a fellow countryman, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” However there is a difference in what happened in this account and that of our parashah. In John 8:3 the woman was caught in the act of lying with a man. Just what happened to the man we are not told. Regardless, in the parashah, G-d established the test of purity for a woman whose husband was suspicious of her but had no proof that she was unfaithful. Num. 5:13 states “if another man goes to bed with her without her husband’s knowledge, so that she becomes impure secretly, and there is no witness against her, and she was not caught in the act…;” In John, the accusers make the woman stand in the middle of the group (John 8:3). In Num. 5:15 the woman was to be taken to the Cohen with an offering for the husband’s jealousy. The woman was then taken to stand alone before Adonai. The Torah teachers and the Pharisees unknowingly placed the woman before YHVH/Yahshua, yet there was no husband present to condemn her of adultery. With no husband to condemn her, there was no reason to judge her (John 8:10-11). In verse 5 Moshe is cited as is the Torah for the prescribed punishment. Yahshua’s response showed four things: He was not against the Torah, He was merciful toward the woman, He opposed her sin (Ex. 20:14), and He could silence hecklers and put them to shame (compare Mt. 22:46). YHVH/Yahshua knows our motives before we ever act. We must examine ourselves carefully and often (Psalm 139:23).
Rabbi Tamah Davis