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Naso 5763

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!  The story is told of a man who came to his rabbi with a request, "Make me a Cohen!" The rabbi was puzzled because a person acquires the designation of Cohen through heredity and only if his father was a Cohen. He replied to the man, "I am sorry; I can't make you a Cohen." Before the rabbi could explain, the man insisted, "You have got to make me a Cohen; I'll give you $10,000!" The rabbi again apologized that he couldn't help him and started to explain, but the man interrupted again to raise the offer $25,000. In exasperation the rabbi asks, "Why is it so important for you to be a Cohen?" The man replies, "Because my father was a Cohen, his father was a Cohen and my great-grandfather was a Cohen!"


When the Torah is read, a Cohen (or Kohen) is called to make the blessings over reading the first portion. Then a Levite is called for the second portion. A Yisroel (Israelite) may then be called for the remaining portions to be read. A Cohen is usually accorded greater honor or precedence before a Levite or an Israel. What do these titles mean and how did they come about?

Jewish history starts with our forefather, Avraham (Abraham). His son Yitzhak (Isaac) continued the traditions and passed them on to his son, Ya'akov (Jacob). Twelve sons were born to Ya'akov: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Zevulon, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Yosef (Joseph) and Binyamin. These were the original 12 tribes of Israel. Because of a special blessing from Ya'akov to Yosef, his portion was given to his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, who were then elevated to equal status with Yosef's brothers - so there were really 13 tribes!

Until the transgression of the Golden Calf, the firstborn sons were the ones who were designated to do the holy service in the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary, in the Desert. No one from the Tribe of Levi worshipped the Golden Calf and, therefore, the Almighty replaced the firstborn with the Tribe of Levi to serve in the sanctuary (Numbers 3:11-12). Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kehath and Merari. The work of the Sanctuary - erecting, dismantling, carrying, singing, assisting the Cohanim - was divided amongst the three families.

Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron) were brothers - descended from Amram the son of Kehath. While Moshe was the leader of the Jewish people in the desert, the Almighty designated Aharon as the Cohen Gadol (High Priest). For all time, Aharon and his descendants would be Cohanim (also spelled "Kohanim"). The Cohanim were the priests who performed the actual service in the Mishkan and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Throughout the 40 years in the desert, the Jewish people traveled according to their tribe. When we entered into the Land of Israel (1273 BCE.), each tribe received a specific territory (except the Tribe of Levi which was given specific cities in which to live). After the split of the Kingdom into Israel and Judah following the death of King Solomon, the Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE and exiled the Ten Tribes. Since then the Ten Tribes were not heard from and Jews can now only trace their lineage to the Kohanim and Levites. The rest of us reside under the designation of "Israelites" - not sure from which tribe we descend.

How does one find out if he is a Cohen or a Levi? If you can't ask your father or your grandfather, then one can look through genealogical records for marriage certificates or official records. If one knows where his paternal forefathers are buried, he can check the tombstones for inscriptions. Sometimes on the tombstones of a Cohen are two hands with fingers spread as a Cohen would form his hands when blessing the Jewish people (Yes, Spock - Leonard Nemoy -is a Cohen and utilized the Cohen's "hand'" for the Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" hand sign). On the tombstone of a Levi there is sometimes an engraving of a pitcher symbolizing the service of the Levite in washing the Cohen's hands before the Cohen would bless the Jewish people. Then again, one can always wait for Eliyahu (Elijah) the prophet who will precede the Moshiach (Messiah) and who will be able to inform us of our true tribal lineage!

Torah Portion of the Week

This week's portion includes further job instructions to the Levites, Moshe is instructed to purify the camp in preparation for the dedication of the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary.

Then four laws relating to the Cohanim are given:

  1. Restitution for stolen property where the owner is deceased and has no next of kin - goes to the Cohanim.

  2. If a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful, he brings her to the Cohanim for the Sotah clarification ceremony.

  3. If a person chooses to withdraw from the material world and consecrate himself exclusively to the service of the Almighty by becoming a Nazir (vowing not to drink wine or eat grape products, come in contact with dead bodies or cut his hair), he must come to the Cohen at the completion of the vow.

  4. The Cohanim were instructed to bless the people with this blessing: "May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His Countenance upon you and give you peace."

The Mishkan is erected and dedicated on the first of Nissan in the second year after the Exodus. The leaders of each tribe jointly give wagons and oxen to transport the Mishkan. During each of the twelve days of dedication, successively each tribal prince gives gifts of gold and silver vessels, sacrificial animals and meal offerings. Every prince gives exactly the same gifts as every other prince.


Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Part of the blessing which the Cohanim, the priests, bless the Jewish people is:

"The Lord shall make His face shine upon you." (Numbers 6:25)

One of the 613 commandments is to "Emulate the Almighty." What is the practical application of this verse?

The great sage Shammai said:

"Greet every man with a pleasant expression of countenance." (Pirkei Avos, 1:15)

There are three parts to this statement:

  1. Countenance - The minimum is to turn your face towards your fellow man; don't greet anyone with the side of your face. Turn your full countenance towards him.
  2. Expression - Your face must denote interest.
  3. Pleasant - Your countenance should also be pleasant.

Since God deals with us measure for measure, God makes His face shine upon those whose faces shine to their fellow human being!


"If there is no Torah, there is no proper behavior;
if there is no proper behavior, there is no Torah.
If there is no wisdom, there is no fear;
if there is no fear there is no wisdom.
If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding;
if there is no understanding there is no knowledge.
If there is no flour, there is no Torah;
if there is no Torah, there is no flour."
    --  Rebbi Elazar ben Azariah

(or go to

Jerusalem  7:07
Guatemala 6:12  Hong Kong 6:49  Honolulu 6:54
J'Burg 5:05  London 8:58  Los Angeles 7:47
Melbourne 4:46  Miami 7:53  Moscow 8:54

New York 8:09  Singapore  6:53


Forty is the old age of youth;
fifty is the youth of old age.
--  Victor Hugo

With thanks to
Hanoj and Myrna Perez and
Alan & Sandra Schneider
for their dedication

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