Naso and Equality

Dear friends,

The sun is trying. Garden party season is virtually upon us – we live in hope. The blossoms went to my head last week– this week is Parashat Naso!!

I don’t comment on world events very often – we have multiple sources of information available to us these days, with whatever built-in biases they may hold. But as we watch the large cities of the United States burn, and black families post story after story of their desperation to keep their sons (in particular) safe, as we watch the events unfolding from the murder – I think I am safe in using this word – of George Floyd, I have to say something.

Even as I read about the latest killing(s), I am aware that the flames we are seeing are a symbol of the flames of despair that have lived within so many people for generations. There are ongoing debates today about the role of white people, both in marching in solidarity and in commentary. I have often remarked that the Civil War never actually ended – the embers of that war that was about power and greed and corruption that grew out of slavery continued to smoulder. The embers continued to burn like an underground peat fire. And we see old and new enmities rise from the ground yet again.

I have also read several reports that much of the looting and destruction – including lighting of businesses on fire – is caused by white neo-Nazi’s who are using these racial tensions as an opening for them to to hide behind. Synagogues are being defaced again with political anti-Jewish hate-filled slogans. We face into this situation, protected to some degree by that 49th parallel, but knowing there are many racial tensions here too.

Indigenous people comprise more than 30% of our prison populations, even as these same peoples are 5% of the overall population of Canada. Years ago I worked with a man who grew up black in Nova Scotia – he could reel off Maritime maxims in an accent born in lands more Celtic than southern Georgia. Generations earlier, his family had come up to the true land of the free – across the border into Canada. His ancestors fled the States, but even here, they found that their freedom was relative.

In our parashah this week, Naso addresses amongst other requirements, tribal distinctions. Each leader of each tribe is commanded to bring forward offerings. Each tribe is named – and we know each tribe as they are rendered distinct in their naming – but then each tribal leader brings forth exactly the same offering. 

“A silver bowl, weighing 130 shekels and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs.”

Much of Torah, I think, is trying to teach us not to be all the same, but to honour our distinguishing differences, whilst at the same time appreciating how alike we are. Thus – we bring the same offerings to the Mishkan, emphasizing the equality of each tribe, even as we clearly then (and today) hold our own particular individualities and allegiances. We learn we can be distinct within a system that demands equality of and for all.

God, through our Torah, commands us to honour each person around us, regardless of the colour of their skin or their place of origin. We are commanded 36 times in Torah to remember we were once strangers in a strange land. And in that remembering we are commanded to extend our hand in welcome and hospitality, we are commanded to share our wealth and commanded give honour to each person in the full dignity of their being. In doing so, we bring God’ness to earth.

May Naso, with its clear message of equality, of balance of our unique particularity and distinct differences, guide our actions in the coming days and weeks.

Ken yehi ratzon, Amen

Rabbi Lynn