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Naso 5774-2014

“The Gift that Keeps on Giving”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Parashat Naso is hardly a simple parasha. It contains many themes, of both major and of seemingly lesser significance.

Parashat Naso opens with the conclusion of the counting of the people of Israel that began in parashat Bamidbar, and continues with the purification of the camp. It then focuses on the portion of the Sotah–the woman suspected of being unfaithful to her husband, the laws of the Nazarite, the Priestly Blessings, and finally, the gifts brought to the Tabernacle by the tribal leaders of Israel.

In Numbers 5, immediately following the laws regarding the purification of the camp of Israel, and immediately preceding the portion of the Sotah, a group of verses warn against stealing from a proselyte, and underscore the requirement to properly pay commitments that were made for the upkeep of the Temple and for the support of the Priesthood. These seemingly innocuous verses teach some very powerful lessons.

The laws regarding the theft from proselytes, powerfully emphasize the terrible financial treachery that is committed when one steals from a fellow Jew who has no protection–no family, no tribe, no relatives! Stealing from the proselyte is regarded as perfidy against G-d Himself, for the proselyte is so totally defenseless. A famous statement attributed to many leaders and social philosophers, maintains that a civilization is measured by how it treats its weakest members.

After boldly establishing the rules protecting proselytes, the Torah, in Numbers 5:9-10, makes the following statements about religious donations, וְכָל תְּרוּמָה לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן–לוֹ יִהְיֶה

וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו, לוֹ יִהְיוּ; אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן לַכֹּהֵן, לוֹ יִהְיֶה Although an accurate translation of these verses is difficult, one common translation is: And every portion from any of the holies that the Children of Israel bring to the Kohen, shall be his. A man’s holies shall be his, and what a man gives to the Kohen, shall be his.

No wonder that the commentators argue so actively over the meanings of this complex text.

Rashi says that despite the reference in the verse to the Hebrew word, תְּרוּמָה  “Terumah,” Numbers 5:9 refers not to regular heave offerings, “Terumah,” but to בִּיכּוּרִים “Bikurim,” the first fruits of the harvest that are brought to the Priest. The Torah states that once the Bikurim are given to the Priest, they become the property of the Priest and his family.

Rashi provides an intriguing interpretation of verse 10, stating that although the Priests and Levites have rights to collect special gifts, תְּרוּמוֹת-Terumot–heave offerings, and מַעַשֹרוֹת-Maasrot–tithes, Priests and Levites cannot forcefully take these gifts from the donors. וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו, לוֹ יִהְיוּ A man’s holy things shall be his. Every farmer has the right to determine of his own free will, to whom to give his heave and tithes offerings. (I have previously noted that this may be the first reference to an economy that is “service based.”) The Israelites are entitled to freely pick, which Priests and Levites have served them best, and support them at the expense of the others who have been less responsive to the community’s needs.

Rashi, in his comments on verse 10, provides an alternate Midrashic interpretation cited by the Sifre, based on the words, וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו, לוֹ יִהְיוּ. Says the Sifrei, A man’s holies shall be his–-one who withholds his tithes and does not give them, that tithe “shall be his;” that is, the end will be, that his field will produce nothing but one tenth of what it used to produce. According to this approach, the conclusion of the verse teaches that if the citizens give to the Kohen the gifts that befit the priests, the people will consequently have much wealth.

Many of the commentators cite similar, but related, anecdotes, with respect to a person’s charitability and the return guaranteed by Heaven. The Yalkut May’am Lo’ez tells of a man who owned only one field that would produce one thousand bushels. Each year, the owner would religiously dedicate one tenth of the produce (100 bushels) for the tithe, as the Torah requires. That one field sustained the owner and his entire family, children and grandchildren, all the days of the owner’s life.

When his end came near, the owner called his son, warning him to be careful about caring for the field, because all of the family’s sustenance had come from that field. The first year, the son donated the entire reckoning of one tenth of the produce. But each year, the son reduced his donations, and each year the field produced less and less, until the field produced less than one hundred bushels. The members of his extended family showed little sympathy for the new owner, explaining to him, that until now, he was the master of the field and the Al-mighty was the Priest, but now he is the Priest and the Al-mighty has become the Master of the field.

Meotzarenu Hayashan cites a story regarding the great Baron Rothschild of Frankfurt. When Rothschild was once asked about his tremendous wealth, he responded by citing the verse in parashat Naso (Numbers 5:10), וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו, לוֹ יִהְיוּ, A man’s holies shall be his. The Baron explained that he considers his only real wealth to be the contributions and donations that he made for the sake of the community and charity. “After all, that is the only wealth that is secure and cannot be taken from me,” affirmed the Baron. But a person can never be certain about the rest of his wealth. Rothschild therefore considered his own “personal material wealth” insignificant in his own eyes.

The Peninim on the Torah, records the story of a wealthy miser in Baghdad, who absolutely refused to give charity to the poor, declining to share the fruits of his “hard-earned” wealth with others.

One day, while sitting in his beautiful garden, his butler, who was about to serve him a magnificent meat lunch, slipped, dropping the plate of meat into the dirt.

As the butler was about to throw the meat away, the miser saw a poor man on the other side of the fence, whose mouth was watering from just looking at the delicious food. Out of character, the miser immediately instructed the butler to give the dirty piece of meat to the poor person.

That night, the miser had a dream that he was in the Garden of Eden, and everybody was sitting by a long table waiting to be served. The waiters eventually served a most magnificent meal to all the assembled, but skipped over the miser. Expressing his displeasure over being passed, he demanded a portion from the waiter, who brought him a meager piece of dirty meat. When the miser complained, the waiter said, “Why are you complaining? This [the Garden of Eden] is the world of reward, where one is compensated commensurate to one’s actions in the other world. The reward you receive here is in accordance with what and how you gave there.”

As we see from our Torah portion, “a man’s holies,” that which he shares with holiness, is precisely what he will ultimately receive in return. What we give now, is what we will eventually receive.

The next time we are asked to help those who may be in need, we need bear in mind the important implications of the Divine system of reward.

May you be blessed.

This year, Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Reunification Day is observed this Tuesday evening, May 27th through Wednesday night, May 28th. This year marks the 47th anniversary of the reunification of the city.