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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Nasso

They shall expel from the camp everyone with tzaraas, everyone who has had a zav emission, and everyone contaminated by a human corpse. (5:2)

Hashem instructed Klal Yisrael to remove all contamination from its camp. In its commentary on this parsha, the Midrash opens its discussion with the pasuk in Mishlei 25:4, "Remove the dross from the silver as the refiner does in producing a vessel." The camp in which Klal Yisrael was situated surrounded the Mishkan, the place where the Shechinah reposed. Around the Mishkan were three zones, each representing a higher plateau of sanctity: The first camp was Machne Shechinah, the encampment of the Divine Presence. Surrounding it was Machne Leviah, where Shevet Levi encamped. Last, in the outermost zone, was the camp of the ordinary Yisraelim.

The Torah admonished Klal Yisrael to send out from the camp those individuals who had become spiritually contaminated; the more serious the tumah, contamination, the greater the exclusion from the premises.

The first class of tumah, the most serious level of contamination, is that of a metzora, who is to be expelled from all three camps. The zav, who is tamei as a result of a bodily emission, is second. He was to be sent out of both Machne Shechinah and Leviah. Yet, he was still free to enter the outer camp of Yisrael. Last, the Torah mentions the tamei meis, one who had been contaminated by contact with a corpse, or had been in a room where a corpse was present. Such a person was only to be removed from the Machne Shechinah.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, draws a parallel between the three classes of tumah and the different zones from which they were banned. Tzaraas is an affliction which is the result of a social failing, disparaging words and slander against one's fellow man. Before the afflicted person could enter any camp, he has to reinstate his social rectitude. Until that time, he was to be expelled from all three camps. The zav, whose source of contamination resulted from a deficiency in his sexual morality, was kept out of two camps. Shevet Levi is characterized by a pure and noble pedigree. The spirit of a community whose lineage is so exemplary cannot tolerate such a lapse in morality. The zav was, thus, removed from the Machne Leviah and, all the more so, from the Machne Shechinah. The tamei meis was to be distanced only from the Machne Shechinah. Life and the living are a tribute to the Almighty. One can serve Him in life; one can glorify and exalt Him in life. Death is the antithesis of the Jew's function in life.

Horav Eli Munk, zl, derives from this chapter that holiness and tumah are relative. They do not constitute two distinct zones, but, rather, develop in concentric circles of ever-diminishing intensity. As the degree of tumah decreases, the opportunity for holiness increases.

He shall be holy, the growth of hair on his head shall grow. (6:6)

In quotingthe Sifri, Rashi explains that "kadosh," holy, is a reference to the hair of the nazir's head which becomes holy through being allowed to grow long specifically for this purpose. The Leviim were instructed to remove all body hair prior to being inducted into service. This requirement, which was the opposite of that for the nazir, only made them tahor, pure, but not kadosh, holy. The nazir was to remain in his holy state for thirty days, the minimum number of days for nezirus stam, a non-specific nazarite vow. In the Talmud Nazir 5a, Chazal derive the number thirty from the word "yiheyeh," the numerical equivalent of thirty.

Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains the concept of holiness as it relates to the nazir within a greater context. The Torah directs itself toward the totality of human life - with its high moments of grandeur and joy, as well as its bleak moments of grief and misery. Thus it also focuses upon the disparate personalities of people and their distinct approaches toward serving the Divine. One person may choose to serve Hashem in a practical format, in constant action, in productive and constructive relationships with his fellowman and in dominion over nature. He does not escape the reality of this world. In contrast, his counterpart who may be more inclined to contemplation, welcoming seclusion, seeks to concentrate on more intellectual pursuits. He may relegate mundane, materialistic concerns to the far background of his life's endeavor.

The Torah ostensibly views the man of action, the "doer", as the model for the Jew to emulate. One who serves Hashem within the context of daily life, who worships Him within the excitement and confusion that is so much a part of our world, is our paradigm to follow. Yet, the Torah does not ignore he whose proclivity directs him to inner peace and meditation. He is availed the opportunity to devote himself to these qualities for a limited time. The Torah provides him with the appropriate framework and rules for achieving his goals, while still protecting him from harmful excesses.

One who so wishes, can take upon himself the nazarite vow for a standard period of thirty days. During this period, he divorces himself from physical pleasures that run counter to his spiritual goals. He lives a life of holiness, separated from people because of his altered physical appearance, specifically letting his hair grow long. He neither drinks wine nor eats related foods, and he does not come in contact with a corpse. He is like the member of an elite group, striving to come nearer to the Almighty by renouncing ordinary life.

The one drawback to the life of a nazir - is that this lifestyle does not represent man's ultimate means of attaining holiness. The nazir never serves as an example for others to emulate. Indeed, when his period of nezirus is complete, he brings an atonement, sacrifice, because, to a certain extent, he has gone too far. While the Torah does not discourage this mystical form of spiritual uplifting, it is not the ideal. The Torah grants him this dispensation to live a hermit-like existence for a short period of time. He must adhere to the ground rules and a limited time frame. When the period is over, he returns to the same avodas Hashem, service of the Almighty, that everybody else seems to accept enthusiastically. To consecrate the mundane, to live life and elevate this existence, represents the Jewish way. Judaism needs life. The Jew can achieve fulfillment by dominating over the material aspects of life, not by repressing or denying them.

This shall be the law of the Nazir; on the day his abstinence is complete, he shall bring himself to the entrance of the Ohel Moed. (6:13)

The word "oso," himself, is rarely used in such a manner. Usually, it refers to "him," as a direct object of an action. The word "oso" is based upon the preposition "es," which has no translation in English. It merely introduces the object of a verb. Indeed, as Sforno explains, the nazir brings himself, since no one is worthy of accompanying him. Presumably, one who escorts the nazir -- as is suggested by the metzora -- is on a higher spiritual plane than the subject of his accompaniment. Who is worthy enough to escort the nazir, an individual who has successfully completed a voluntary period of self sanctification? The nazir has achieved a lofty goal. This is why no one may accompany him.

Rashi cited the Sifri who observes that this is only one of those instances in the Torah in which this preposition is used in a reflective construction - referring back to the subject. The second case is found in the laws concerning he who mistakenly eats a food that is holy. "They will cause themselves to bear the sin of guilt" (Vayikra 22:16). The third instance concerns the death of Moshe Rabbeinu wherein it is written, "And he buried himself." (Devarim 34:6)

Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, draws a connection between these three cases, in that each requires a special precaution to avoid falling into a trap. The nazir is one who chooses to take a vow of abstinence. He must make a judgement call as to how long he feels he can bear this abstinence. When the allotted time has passed, he must go by himself to offer his sacrifice. In the situation of the one who has erred and eaten holy food, he has separated the tithe for the Kohen and Levi and must immediately give it to them, so that he not be tempted to eat them himself. Precaution precludes error. The third case involves Moshe Rabbeinu's death and burial. Hashem had made known the day Moshe would leave this world. Moshe buried himself, so that the people would not be tempted to make a shrine of his tomb.

The lesson we glean from here is important: At times we must make decisions that are difficult and demanding. They are, however, a necessary precaution to guard against a serious downfall in the future. The decisions we are compelled to make are not always comfortable. If we do not take precautionary measures, however, the results could be far more destructive/damaging.

One leader each day, one leader each day shall they bring their offering…one young steer…one ram, one lamb. (7:11,14)

The Torah records the fact that each Nasi brought the exact same offering the dedication of the Mizbayach. The Midrash explains that the various sacrifices correspond to the Avos, Patriarchs: A steer, corresponding to Avraham Avinu, of whom it is said, "He took a young steer (to feed his guests)"; a ram, of whom it is said, "(Avraham) took the ram (instead of Yitzchak); a lamb, corresponding to Yaakov, of whom it is said, "Then Yaakov separated the lambs (out of Lavan's flock)." This Midrash begs elucidation. We can understand why a bullock represents Avraham Avinu's merit for his overwhelming sense of devotion to his fellow man. He exemplified the middah of chesed, kindness. He fed his guests a young steer, emphasizing the quality of his hospitality. A ram also suggests Yitzvchak Avinu, as it recalls his willingness to become a sacrifice to Hashem. Indeed, Hashem accepted the ram, which served as his replacement, as if it had been Yitzchak himself. We must understand, however, how Yaakov Avinu is symbolized by a lamb. Separating the lambs out of Lavan's flock was truly a fine thing to do, but was it so worthy of merit?

Horav Meir Bergman, shlita, suggests that the Midrash is teaching us the overriding value of integrity. Yaakov Avinu signifies the middah, attribute, of emes, truth. He teaches us that a lack of integrity -- regardless of its seeming insignificance or its subject -- is harmful and antiethical to Torah dictate. He exercised extreme care to avoid harming others or deriving any ill-begotten benefits, however minute. If it had anything of illegitimacy, it was wrong.

Yaakov Avinu was compelled to have long and troublesome dealings with the corrupt Lavan, the paradigm of dishonesty. Yet, Yaakov never once bent the rules or wavered from his absolute moral principle. He would not resort to the cheating and duplicity that was a way of life in Lavan's home. After twenty years of treachery, Lavan switched Yaakov's wages, his going away present, for the spotted, speckled and black sheep - the less desirable ones of the flock. Did Yaakov complain? Did he resort to the underhandedness to which he had been subjected for all these years? No! He maintained his fidelity to the agreement with the integrity that was his hallmark character trait. If Yaakov's wages were to be a specific type of sheep - so be it. He would take only what was his - nothing else.

This was the greatness of the b'chir ha'Avos, chosen one of the Patriarchs - integrity. Yaakov Avinu was the embodiment of truth. Indeed, he knew only too well that truth is measured not only in absolute terms, but also in accordance with the way others perceive it. This should serve as a wake-up call for us. Does it make a difference whom we cheat, to whom we tell a lie - whether it is blatant, or one of those innocent "white" lies? Surely, Yaakov had every reason to take his due from Lavan for the twenty years of treachery to which he was subjected. That would have been cheating, however, and Yaakov Avinu could never lie or cheat to anyone because that would not be emes. Can we say that? If we cannot, it would serve us well to learn a lesson from our Patriarch.

The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon ben Aminadav, of the tribe of Yehudah. And his korban was… (7:12,13)

Interestingly, Nachshon ben Aminadav was the only Nasi for whom the korban begins with the prefix "vov" "v'korbano," and his korban. This seems especially notable due to the fact that he was the first Nasi to bring a korban, so there was no previous Nasi to which the "vov" could link. Tzor HaMor derives from here that Nachshon was to preserve his humility despite his lofty position. The "vov" is added as a reminder that his korban is, in fact, linked with others. He could bring his korban only because others brought theirs.

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, offers a novel explanation for the added "vov" and also for the fact that Nachshon is the only Nasi to whom the Torah does not refer to by his title. The others are all called "Nasi," while Nachshon is just called by his name. Elisheva, Aharon HaKohen's wife, mother of Nadav and Avihu, whose lives were tragically cut short, was Nachshon's sister. Nachshon was a unique individual in the sense that he empathized with his sister's overwhelming pain in losing two such special sons. She mourned for them; he mourned for her. He felt her grief and sorrow. Because of this, the Torah does not call attention to his noble position. He was just another Jew from the tribe of Yehudah. The distinction accorded to a Nasi is less significant as a result of his shared grief. This also explains the added "vov." When one is b'simchah, filled with joy, he becomes so involved with his korban that it becomes a part of him. He and his korban are connected; they are one. Nachshon could not integrate himself with his korban, with the inherent joy which emanates from this act, because of his sister's grief. Hence, it was considered as if Nachshon's korban was distinct from its owner. The Torah connects these two, owner and korban, with the letter "vov."

This demonstrates the remarkable sensitivity Nachshon had for his sister. If she grieved - he also grieved. If she was in mourning - he was also in mourning. On the greatest day of his tenure as Nasi , as he led the Nesiim in dedicating the Mizbayach, Nachshon's thoughts were of his griefstricken sister. His heart went out to her. We now understand why Nachshon was selected to lead the Nesiim. He exemplified gadlus, greatness, gadlus b'Torah u'b'middos - greatness in Torah and character refinement.


1) The Yerios ha'Mishkan consisted of ______________ panels.
2) May a Kohen or Levi forcibly take their matanos from the owner?
3) The flour used for the Minchas Sotah was made of ____________.
4) To which spice are the Imahos, Matriarchs, compared?
5) What is the halachah if the sotah refuses to drink the bitter waters once the megillah has been erased?
6) What did the Nesiim contribute to the construction of the Mishkan?


1) Ten
2) No. The goodwill of their pleasure, giving to whichever Kohen or Levi they so choose, belongs to the owner.
3) Barley
4) Levonah, frank- incense
5) They pour it into her forcibly.
6) The Avnei Shoham and Avnei Milluim for the Eiphod and the Choshen.

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