Naso: Society and the Priesthood

A thought struck me during the Torah reading this past Shabbos about a unifying theme throughout parashas Naso. Here are the topics in the parashah:

  • The task assignments and census of the three clans of sheivet Levi.

This section defines the sacred camp. The rest of the parashah discusses the porousness of the divider between the sacred camp and general society. Being among the priests demands taking responsibility for society, and being in society doesn’t pardon one from dedicating to the sacred.

  • The metzora, the zav, and anyone who came in contact with a dead body are tamei and must be separated from the community.

As soon as the levitic and priestly community are designated as their own camp, they are told to involve themselves in the limits of the general civil camp.

Someone who stole from a convert who subsequently passed away without heirs (or anyone else who r”l died without relatives, no matter how distant) has no one to reimburse. The money is given to the kohanim.In the previous law, we saw the priesthood standing in judgment of the civil. Here they are portrayed in their role of being family for those who have none. They receive the reimbursement because they are charged with that responsibility.

  • The laws of sotah, the wife whose husband accuses her of having an affair and subsequently returns to her accused paramour, is brought to the beis hamiqdash where a kohein performs the appropriate rite to determine her guilt.

The kohein is brought in to relieve domestic strife. This is a more intimate integration in the general society than providing for the have-nots. And in fact, the aspect of society we generally think as the least priestly.

  • The nazir is someone who swears off wine, hair-cutting and tum’ah, typically for 30 days.

This is a reversal of the prior trend, but on the same topic. Until now we pulled the newly defined priestly society into the details of bringing civility to general society. Now we address the member of general society who strives to bridge that gap to visit the priestly. While not a kohein, despite sharing the prohibition against becoming tamei though contact with the dead, the nazir takes a vacation from general society to strive for a holier state.

  • Last, we have the gifts the heads of the tribes brought at the consecration of the Mishkan.

The nesi’im, the heads of each tribe, the political leaders, were essential to the process of consecration.

There is no membership in the holy camp without taking responsibility for society, and one has no right to authority over society without committing to holiness.

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