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Rachel Peck

Israel-Gaza War 5784: Naso – Establishing Shalom

Naso is a hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated narratives: Levitical assignments, unfaithful wives, Nazirites, priestly blessings, and gifts from the chiefs of each tribe for the Tabernacle. It’s as if someone took cutting room floor snippets from several different movies and pasted them together into a single film.

Yet Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks discerned a common theme running through our portion: shalom. Shalom, usually translated as “peace,” means much more than the absence of contention, whether of emotions or events. It means a wholeness, a harmony, of diverse parts, everything working together for good. Rabbi Sacks says: “Peace exists where each element in the system is valued as a vital part of the system as a whole and there is no discord between them.” He believes that this is the thread tying the disparate parts of Naso together.

In the case of the woman suspected of adultery, G-d allowed His name to be erased to promote peace between husband and wife. Every leader of the tribes contributed exactly the same items to the Tabernacle, yet Torah commentators attribute a unique mystical meaning to each tribe’s identical gifts. The priestly blessing, recited during Shabbat, High Holiday, and pilgrimage festival services, stresses shalom with its final blessing:

Yisa Adonai panav elekha v’yasem lekha shalom (May Hashem turn his countenance to you and establish peace for you).”

Finally, the Nazirite pursued a higher degree of sanctity by taking on additional restrictions: refraining from hard liquor, wine, and in fact any grape product; not cutting his/her hair; and not coming into contact with a dead person, even an immediate family member. This last restriction mirrored that of the High Priest himself.

Rabbi Sacks writes of the internal conflict within Judaism between equal dignity of all before G-d and a hereditary priestly class, the Kohanim. Allowing ordinary Israelis who were not Kohanim to attain this higher connection was a way of resolving this tension. Rabbi Sacks says this helped to avoid resentment on the part of the former group.

Today in Israel there is great resentment on the part of many against the ultra-Orthodox who are exempt from serving in the military so they can devote their time and energy to Torah study, reminiscent of the exemption of the Levites from serving in all but defensive wars. I wrote last week of the need for the haredi sector to allow their young men to serve, with exceptions only for gifted and serious Torah scholars.

What if there was a similar exemption to study Torah for gifted students who are not part of this sector? Not only Religious Zionists but also secular Israelis who realize the Torah’s centrality to the Jewish people could benefit society by mastering its ethics and principals. Like the Nazirite, who achieved a higher level of sanctity by taking on some limited restrictions, they could learn Torah without taking on all the obligations of an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. If exemptions were available to a small number of individuals from all social sectors, based on merit rather than group membership, resentment would be reduced or even vanish altogether. This could lead to greater appreciation of the gifts of Torah by all Israeli Jews, religious and secular alike, as well as greater connection to the holy and to one’s fellow Jews.

The societal divisions that wracked Israel before October 7th and persist today inspired enemies to attack a weakened Israel. After the external war against Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran is won, the internal war will remain. Israel needs the peace that is not only the absence of war and contention, but the presence of harmony and wholeness.

About the Author
I was born in Washington, DC, and raised in the suburbs, but now reside in the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. I am a retired editor and proud Zionist. I can also be found at https://kosherkitty.wordpress.com/
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