VIPs (Very Important Priests): Naso 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever given someone else a gift that you wished you owned yourself? Would that be a sign of generosity or selfishness, or perhaps a bit of both?

The relationship between a gift’s giver and recipient is noted near the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Naso:

The Pitch: “And each shall retain his sacred donations: each priest shall keep what is given to him.” – Numbers 5:10

Swing #1: “What bearing does this statement have on the portion dealing with robbery? Fools believe that the money which they have lying in their coffers is theirs, while the money which they give away to charity is theirs no longer. They therefore commit robbery, filling up their coffers with the money of others. Actually, quite the reverse is true. Only those possessions which are given away for sacred purposes (his sacred donations) such as those which we give to priests and scholars of the Law (what is given to him) remain the property of the original owner (shall keep) forever. But those possessions which a man greedily amasses for himself, not to speak of the money of others, are not his at all. Such gains will not remain with him for longer than a fleeting moment.” – Binah Le-Ittim

Swing #2: “Once the owner has given ‘his’ holy portion to the priest it becomes secular, mundane, not encumbered with any restrictions. Rather, it is exclusively ‘his’, neither the previous owners nor other priests can legally deprive him of it.” – Sforno

Swing #3: “Since gifts to the Kohanim and the Levites have been stated, one might be able [to think that] they may come and take them forcibly. [To teach us otherwise,] the Torah says, ‘A man’s holies shall be his.’ This tells us that the goodwill of their pleasure belongs to their owner.” – Sifrei

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators explain how a sacred gift remains in the possession of the giver? What does that say about the role of the priest? What does it say about the role of the giver? What does this teach us about how to approach the most important gifts we give?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tomorrow, we will be thrilled to welcome a new baby girl into our congregation. Also, we will hear from Josh Gettinger, an out-of-town guest who has a special approach to reading Torah, and from Isaac Cohen, a new member of our synagogue who will reflect on his experience living in Israel during the Six-Day War. It all starts with Danish & D’rash at 9:00AM and services at 9:30AM.

The Big Inning at the End: The brawl between Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland reveals baseball’s strange dichotomy between machismo and gentility. Does a pitcher ever have the right to intentionally hit a batter with a pitch? And does that batter have the right to retaliate, either by fighting that pitcher personally or by having his team’s pitcher throw at someone else? Do two wrongs make a right?

Shabbat Shalom!