Torah Reflections 35
Torah Portion Numbers 4 : 21 to 7 : 89
Haftarah Portion Judges 13 : 2 – 25
The Torah of YHWH given to Moses
The counting continues. This week, we have an insight into the family of Levi. He had three sons, Gershon, Merari, and Kohath (the grandfather of Moses and Aaron). Between them, they had 8,580 male descendants between the ages of 30 and 50, who were assigned tasks of serving in the Tabernacle and carrying various parts of it whenever it relocated from one place to another.
Once again, we have confirmation of the meticulous attention to detail which God instructed Moses to convey to the Israelites. Nothing left to chance, good order, no-one in doubt about the tasks they were assigned.
There follows, some instruction about keeping the camp healthy, by segregating those with signs of disease. And also a charge to the priests about making judgements relating to accusations of marriage infidelity. The core of this section of our parashah is the recognition of jealousy and how to deal with it. These instructions are formative in the life of the new community as they change from being mere ‘neighbours’ as slaves in Egypt, to becoming an exemplary nation before the rest of the nations around them. That is what the word “Torah” means. It is ‘teaching’ or ‘instructions for righteous living’. It is instructive of a lifestyle which is honourable and caring. It is ‘being holy, as God Himself is holy’.
The section about the vow of a “Nazarite” is most enlightening. In the Scriptures we are told of three men who were Nazarites for life, a vow taken on their behalf by their grateful parents. They are Samson, Samuel and John the Baptiser. Only Samson is actually referred to as a Nazarite. But there were many others who took this vow for a specific period or purpose. The outward signs related to hair growth and wine abstention. There is speculation, based on Acts 18, that the Apostle Paul might have taken a Nazarite vow whilst in Corinth, but this cannot be confirmed from the little we are told about it in the text.
The most well-known section of our reading today is found at the end of Numbers 6. Words that are burned into the memory of most preachers of the gospel, and frequently used as a benediction. Words that are usually spoken as a plea, or a wish, for the benefit of the hearer when quoted today from our English Bible translations. But in Hebrew, just fifteen words, full of meaning, spoken as a powerful promise.
We need to put this into context. The Israelites were at the beginning of what was to be a very long journey in trying conditions of the desert wilderness. They had no idea where they were, and even less idea of where they were going. Being led by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. They had left behind everything that was familiar to them. Going back was not an option.
Then, at God’s command, Aaron stood before them, hands raised in blessing, his voice loud and very clear.
“Yivarechecha Adonai viyishmirecha, Ya’er Adonai panav elecha veechunera, Yeesa Adonai panav elecha viyasem lecha shalom.” (phonetic Hebrew)
“The LORD will bless you, and He will keep you, The LORD will make His face shine upon you, and He will be gracious to you. The LORD will lift up His countenance to you, and He will establish your Shalom.” (One New Man Bible translation)
The strong emphasis in the Hebrew is on what God WILL do. It was not a prayer, it was a promise. A promise spoken by a man of high integrity among the people. A man in whom they had trust and respect.
The Ancient Hebrew Research Centre translates this ancient Hebrew text as follows:-
“YHWH will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection. YHWH will illuminate the wholeness of His being to you, bringing order, and He will beautify you. YHWH will lift up the wholeness of His being and look upon you, and He will set in place all you need to be whole and complete.”
What a promise.
We know that God kept His word. They enjoyed the provision of food and water. Their shoes did not wear out, their livestock produced food. But they also had the blessing of both Moses and Aaron to intercede, guide, instruct and encourage them all the years of their travels. They were observant of all the commandments of God, and they prospered in their travels safely to the Land of Promise.
Let us ponder this Aaronic blessing, and ask God what He requires of us to pronounce such a blessing on us today.