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Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take a census of the Gershonites,
also, by their ancestral house and by their clans.” (Numbers 4:21)

Parashat Naso (Hebrew for “lift up”) is the longest portion in the Torah. It closes with the chieftains of the twelve tribes bringing their personal gifts to the newly completed and consecrated mishkan, or Tabernacle. Included are six carts with twelve oxen to drive them (Num. 6:3). This is an odd number; you would expect twelve carts, one for each tribe. Why six?

Jewish thought offers many reasons (usually a sign nobody really knows the answer!). The six wagons correspond to six of the seven heavens (the seventh belongs to God alone and is not counted). Or they correspond to the six orders of the Mishnah. Or to the six days of creation. Or to the six matriarchs (Song of Songs Rabbah VI, 4:2; remarkably, this commentary includes Bilhah and Zilpah among the matriarchs).  Take your pick.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994; last “Rebbe” of the Lubavitch chasidim) finds a deeper symbolism. The chieftains donate the carts to assist the Levites in transporting the mishkan. Six carts are the minimum required to do the job without any redundancy. That is, with six carts only, every part of every cart (and every Levite) would have a specific task to perform in moving the klei kodesh, the sacred vessels of the mishkan. This is a blueprint for creating community: ensuring each individual has a meaningful job to perform and the satisfaction of contribution. It also is an admonition to the individual: commit every part of your being (physical, intellectual, spiritual) to the job in front of you. A strong community fabric is woven out of this reciprocal sense of responsibility.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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