The Embedded Message

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



The Embedded Message

Adapted by Zvi Shimon


Parashat Naso continues the general census begun in Parashat Bemidbar, culminating with the sacrifices of the nesi'im (princes) and the sanctification of the Mishkan (tabernacle). However, interrupting these events are several parashiot, among them: Parashat "Ha-mo'el Ma'al ba-Hashem" (Bemidbar 5:5-10), Parashat Sota (5:11-31), and Parashat Nazir (6:1-21). What are these parashiot doing here? Why do they break the flow of events?


Let us start with Parashat "Ha-mo'el Ma'al ba-Hashem," which deals with laws of theft. This entire parasha would seem to be superfluous, since we have already been taught the laws of theft at the end of Parashat Vayikra (5:20-26). Rashi explains that two new points are added in our parasha, one regarding confession, and one regarding gezel ha-ger (theft from a foreigner, or proselyte). According to the Midrash (Bemidbar Rabba 8:1), we learn here that theft from a ger is just as serious as theft from an Israelite, while according to Rashi, we learn that restitution must be handed over to the priests when the ger has no inheritors.

But why must the laws of gezel ha-ger appear in Parashat Naso? The underlying idea, the motto which appears again and again throughout the first two parashiot of the book of Bemidbar is "le-mishpechotam le-beit avotam" - "according to their families and by the house of their fathers." The beginning of the book of Bemidbar is filled with the idea of family and tribal roots. However, there is a psychological danger stemming from feelings of tribal rootedness and connection; it can lead to disregard and even hostility towards all outsiders, towards all those not belonging to the clan.

While Judaism sees the family and the nation as central to Jewish identity and consciousness, it is well aware of the danger to which these loyalties can lead when taken to an extreme. It is for this reason that we are commanded with regard to gezel ha-ger in the middle of Parashat Naso. It is precisely the ger, the foreigner, lacking the sense of familial, tribal and national roots, who is most vulnerable to the atmosphere pervading the beginning of Sefer Bemidbar. Therefore, the Torah commands us here to deal with the ger exactly as we would with our fellow Israelites.

Another question remains: why are the laws of gezel ha-ger planted in the middle of Parashat Naso, thus interrupting the flow of events? Why not place it at the end of the parasha?

Parashat Naso deals with some of the most central aspects of the collective destiny and historical mission of the people of Israel: the sanctification of the Mishkan, the dwelling of the Shekhinah therein, and the preparation of the Nation of Israel for the conquest of the Land of Israel. When dealing with such vast issues of historical significance, there is a danger that many of the smaller issues, pertaining not to the nation but rather to the individual, might find themselves on the periphery or even totally ignored. Moral issues relating to the individual might be totally eclipsed by issues of national significance.

This is precisely the reason why, in the midst of the descriptions of Am Yisrael's preparations for their historical march forward, the Torah commands us with regard to the ger, the individual who stands completely alone. It is only on the basis of moral laws such as gezel ha-ger that Am Yisrael as a people can accomplish its destiny.

This is also the reason for the location of the laws of Sota and Nazir in the middle of Parashat Naso. Only on the basis of family fidelity and a proper relationship to the materialistic world can Am Yisrael march forward towards its national goals and aspirations.

A similar phenomenon of "displacement" can be found in Parashiot Yitro and Mishpatim. There, the narrative describing the giving of the Torah is interrupted by a long series of laws (see Rashi and Ramban, who disagree about the chronology of the events). Why? Before the long list of laws, the Jews tell Moshe, "Kol asher diber Hashem na'aseh" - "All that which God has spoken we will do" (Shemot 19:8). But afterwards, they add, "Na'aseh ve-nishma" - "We will do and we will hear" (ibid. 24:7). Only after the process of learning and understanding the precepts of Parashat Mishpatim can they respond with "ve-nishma." The overwhelming, awe-inspiring experience of God descending on Mount Sinai must be accompanied by the process of learning many specific commandments. It is only through the combination of the two that proper kabbalat ha-Torah can occur.

From these two examples, Parashat Naso and Parashiot Yitro and Mishpatim, we see that hidden behind the apparent "disorder" of the parashiot are some of the fundamental principles of Judaism.

(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Naso 5755 [1995].)



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