The Parshah of Naso opens with G‑d’s instruction to Moses to “raise the heads” (the Torah’s idiom for “take a count”) of the Levite families of Gershon, who were charged with the task of transporting the doorway curtains, tent coverings and tapestries of the Tabernacle (the portable Sanctuary which the children of Israel erected in their encampments in the desert). The Gershonites were one of the three Levite clans, which carried the names of Levi’s three sons: Gershon, Kohath and Merari.

The previous Parshah of Bamidbar recorded the figures for the census taken of all Levite males from the age of one month and up (altogether, they numbered 22,300). In Naso a second count is taken, of those who will be doing the actual work of transporting the Sanctuary—the Levite men between the ages of 30 and 50.

The results of this census were: Kohath—2,750; Gershon—2,630; Merari—3,200. Total of the Levite “workforce”: 8,580.

Having thus concluded its census of the families and tribes of Israel and its designation of their camping places around the Sanctuary, the Torah now commands, “Send out of the camp all who are afflicted with tzaraat, who are contaminated by a bodily discharge, and those contaminated by contact with the dead” until such time as they are cleansed of their ritual impurity.

The Wayward Wife

The sotah is a woman who acts in a way that causes her to be suspected of adultery (i.e., she is warned by her husband regarding her relations with another man, and subsequently secludes herself with that man, before witnesses). The Torah instructs that she be tested with “bitter waters”:

If a man’s wife go astray, and commit a betrayal against him . . . and the spirit of jealousy come upon him . . .

Then shall the man bring his wife to the priest. He shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense on it, for it is an offering of jealousy, an offering bringing iniquity to remembrance . . .

The priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the earth that is on the floor of the Tabernacle shall the priest take, and put it into the water.

Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before the L‑rd and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering . . .

The following oath is then administered to the sotah:

“If no man has lain with you and you have not gone astray to become defiled [to another] in place of your husband, then [you will] be absolved through the bitter waters which cause the curse.

“But if you have gone astray to another instead of your husband, and you have been defiled . . . may G‑d make you for a curse and an oath among your people. . . . These curse-bearing waters shall enter your innards, causing the belly to swell and the thigh to rupture.”

The woman shall say: “Amen, amen.”

The oath is then inscribed in a parchment scroll, and the scroll is placed in the “bitter waters” until the writing is erased. The wayward wife is then given the water to drink.

It shall come to pass: if she had been defiled and was unfaithful to her husband, the curse-bearing waters shall enter her to become bitter, and her belly will swell and her thigh will rupture. The woman will be a curse among her people.

But if the woman had not become defiled and she is clean, she shall be exempted and bear seed.

The Nazir

A nazir is a man or woman who, out of a desire to “separate themselves to G‑d,” takes a vow of nezirut (“abstinence”) from certain worldly pleasures and involvements, either for a set period of time or for their entire lifetime. One who takes this vow is forbidden to drink wine, cut his or her hair, or to become tamei (ritually impure) through contact with a dead body—even for a close relative—for the duration of the nezirut.

The prohibition against wine is all-encompassing:

He shall abstain from wine and wine-brandy, and shall drink no vinegar . . . nor shall he drink any beverage of grapes, nor eat grapes, moist or dried. . . . He shall eat nothing that is made of the grapevine, from the seeds to the skin.

At the conclusion of the period of nezirut, the nazir brings a series of offerings—a male lamb as an “ascending offering,” an ewe lamb as a “sin offering,” and a ram as a “peace offering” (for the definitions of the different types of offerings, see summary for the Parshah of Vayikra). The nazir’s hair, which had grown freely throughout the nezirut, is now completely shorn and burnt in the fire beneath the peace offering.

The Priestly Blessing

G‑d spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying: Thus shall you bless the children of Israel; say to them:

“May G‑d bless you and keep you. May G‑d make His face shine upon you, and give you grace. May G‑d lift up His face to you and give you peace.”

They shall set My name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.

Wagons and Oxen

The Torah now resumes its account (which it left off in the 10th chapter of Leviticus, back in the Parshah of Shemini) of the dedication of the Sanctuary on the first of Nissan, one year (minus two weeks) after the Exodus.

It came to pass on the day that Moses had finished setting up the Tabernacle, and had anointed and sanctified it, and all its vessels, and the altar and all its vessels . . .

The nesi’im of Israel, heads of the house of their fathers, who were the princes of the tribes . . . approached; and they brought their offering before G‑d.

The first gift brought by the tribal heads was “six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for each two nesi’im, and an ox for each one.” G‑d instructs Moses to accept this gift, and that the wagons and oxen should be used by the Levites to transport the Sanctuary.

Two wagons and four oxen were given to the Gershonites, who transported the Sanctuary’s tent coverings and tapestries. The remaining four wagons and eight oxen were given to the Levite families of Merari, who transported the Sanctuary’s 48 wall panels, 165 foundation sockets, 69 posts and other structural components. “But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because the service of the most holy belonged to them: they bore [the Sanctuary’s vessels] on their shoulders.”

Twelve Times Thirty-Five

In addition, each nasi brought a separate offering of his own as “a dedication of the altar.” Regarding these offerings, G‑d instructed: “One nasi each day, one nasi each day, shall bring near his offering for the dedication of the altar.”

He that offered his offering the first day was Nachshon the son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah.

His offering was: One silver dish, the weight of which was a hundred and thirty shekels, and one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them were full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal offering. One spoon of ten shekels of gold, full of incense. One young bullock, one ram, one yearling lamb, for a burnt offering. One kid of the goats for a sin offering. And for a sacrifice of peace offerings: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, five lambs of the first year. This was the offering of Nachshon the son of Aminadav.

The same gift was brought the next day, by Nethanel the son of Zuar, prince of the tribe of Issachar:

One silver dish, the weight of which was a hundred and thirty shekels, and one silver bowl of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them were full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal offering. One spoon of ten shekels of gold, full of incense. One young bullock, one ram, one yearling lamb, for a burnt offering. One kid of the goats for a sin offering. And for a sacrifice of peace offerings: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, five lambs of the first year. This was the offering of Nethanel the son of Zuar.

The Torah then proceeds to itemize each tribe’s gift separately, although each nasi brought the very same 35 items as his offering.

After listing the twelve tribes’ offerings on the first twelve days of Nissan, the Torah summarizes:

This was the dedication of the altar, on the day when it was anointed, by the princes of Israel: twelve dishes of silver, twelve silver bowls, twelve spoons of gold. . . . All the silver vessels weighed two thousand four hundred shekels. . . . All the gold of the spoons was a hundred and twenty shekels.

All the oxen for the burnt offerings were twelve bullocks, the rams twelve, the yearling lambs twelve, with their meal offering. The kids of the goats for sin offerings, twelve. And all the oxen for the sacrifice of the peace offerings were twenty-four bullocks, the rams sixty, the he-goats sixty, the yearling lambs sixty.

“When Moses would go into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from off the covering that was upon the Ark of Testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.”