“Take a census of the Kohathite branch of the Levites by their clans and families.” — Numbers 4:2
Note to our readers: Today is the first day of the Jewish holiday, Shavuot. Because this is a non-working holiday, this devotion was prepared for you in advance.
The Torah portion for this week is Naso, from Numbers 4:21–7:89, along with special Torah readings for Shavuot, Exodus 19:1–20:23 and Deuteronomy 14:22–16:17.
There is a story about a small creature that wasn’t so happy with how he had been created. He complains to the Creator: “Lord, in Your great wisdom You created everything, but You made me so small! I have tiny legs that can’t run very fast. Even worse, You have placed two humps on my back that weigh me down and slow me down!” God looked lovingly on His creation and explained, “Little one, those humps are not there to slow you down. They are wings and you are a bird. They are there so that you can fly!”
This week’s Torah portion is called Naso, meaning “count,” as in: “Take a census . . .” The Jewish sages note that this Torah portion is always read adjacent to the holiday of Shavuot, also known as Pentecost, either on the Sabbath before it or right after it. Therefore, the title of the portion – Naso — relates to the holiday and has something to teach us about what we are celebrating.
Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah, God’s Word. It is on that day God appeared on Mount Sinai and gave the Ten Commandments on two tablets to the children of Israel. Through them, God’s Word was spread to the world and it has shaped civilization as we know it today.
However, for all the good that the Bible has done, it hasn’t been always been easy to do God’s will. Indeed many sacrifices have been made by individuals and nations in order to obey and fulfill God’s Word. Even today, there are two ways to see the Torah – one is as a gift, the other as a burden, for it requires us to work, to serve, and to sacrifice.
The word Naso has two additional meanings: It can mean “to raise up” and also “to bear a burden.” The sages explain that the Torah, which we are celebrating at this time, can be seen either as a burden or as wings that lift us up. Just as the wings on the back of a bird can be seen as something that either weighs it down or helps it soar, so too, God gave us two humps – the two tablets – which we can see as a burden or use them to fly.
How we view the Torah will determine the quality of our lives. Service and obedience are not meant to bog us down. It is through serving God and fulfilling His will that we are able to soar! It’s not always easy, but it is always essential.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President