THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT NASSO AND SHAVUOT 5779

BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER

 

Is it a coincidence that we read Parshat Nasso just before Shavuot? Of course not. Nothing happens haphazardly. So how are they connected?

 

Shavuot has many names. The most relevant one today is naturally Chag Matan Torah – the Festival of our receiving the Holy Torah on Mount Sinai a couple of months after being freed from Egypt, which is why many stay up all night learning and studying Torah. And yet in the Torah itself, there is no reference to the Children of Israel receiving the Torah on Shavuot.

 

One more observation. Shavuot marks the end of the counting of the Omer. 49 days marking the period of Bnei Yisrael's leaving the slavery and immorality of Egypt and becoming spiritually prepared to be HaShem's chosen nation and meriting HaShem's most precious gift - the Holy Torah. What significance is in this counting?

 

The late great Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aron Leib Steinman, explained that when the Talmud refers to the People of Israel descending to 49 levels of Tum’ah (impurity), it does not refer to our common understanding of Tum’ah – touching a dead animal, touching parts of the body, or a woman’s menstrual cycle. None of this. It actually refers to “Midot” – behaviour. In Egypt, imitating our “hosts”, we reached the all-time lowest level of behavioural characteristics. HaShem needed to grant us 49 days – one for each level – to raise our behavioural standards to those required to receive and accept the Torah. As Rav Aron Leib put it; “The Torah doesn’t make you a Mensch. Only a Mensch can fully absorb the Torah.”

 

We can appreciate that each year we need to count seven full weeks, so that we work on ourselves to achieve the highest possible human standards, and so that we can indeed re-enact the receiving of the Torah. Let’s take that one step further. The Torah is our life. It’s our constitution. It dictates our daily schedule. A Jew without Torah is like a fish out of water. We really don’t need a festival to celebrate the Torah. Every day that we identify with and accept the Torah is a Chag. But, we clearly need to be worthy of that.

 

Which brings me back to Nasso. Almost half of the Parsha is made up of the detailed and uncharacteristic repetitive description of the sacrifices brought by each of the 12 princes. And they all brought the exact same sacrifices. Rabbi Menachem Leibtag explains this as a reward for the “Achdut” – unity – shown by the tribal princes. None of them wanted to outdo the other. None wanted a better position. They were happy doing identical service to HaShem’s sanctuary.

 

The level of true unity that the Children of Israel achieved just prior to Matan Torah is summed up by Rashi on the verse “Vayichan Ha’am Neged Hahar – and the People (in the singular tense) encamped by the mountain (Sinai)”. Rashi writes “Ke’ish echad – belev echad – as one person with one heart.” This level of unity, of sharing, of accommodating, of understanding – the highest level of behavioural standards – this is what allowed them to receive, accept and absorb the Holy Torah for themselves, and for all generations to follow.

 

For us to genuinely maintain the daily receiving, accepting and absorbing of the Torah, we need to strive for that level, daily.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach