When I started to be more aware of the prayers and Torah readings in Shul (bet hakneset), something strange happened on one Shabbat. As the Ba’al Koreh (Torah reader) got to sheni (end of the first portion), he didn’t stop; he kept on going. For a second, I thought it was a double Parsha; it wasn’t. He whizzed through the third portion, and also the fourth. I thought the gabbai put him up to it. Maybe there was some sort of conspiracy. Or maybe the Ba’al Koreh was just plain ole’ hungry and wanted to wrap it up to go home to eat. Apparently, some shuls have the custom to read all the way up through to the end of chamishi, the fifth portion, because at the end of the fifth portion, we read birkat kohanim, where a Kohen takes tremendous pride, in which they bless the people. As one knows, the first aliya (first one that comes up to the Torah), it is customary to call the Kohen. So therefore, we give him that honor. If there are many kohanim in a particular congregation, they usually auction off the prestigious honor.
Last week, we read about the Kahat families, from the tribe of Levi and their dedicated work in the temple. This week, we discuss the Gershon family and third dedication to the temple. One of the tasks that b’nei Gershon had, was singing in the temple; singing during the morning and afternoon olah offerings, as well as during all communal olah offerings and the communal shelamim offering on Shavuot. The Levite choir was comprised of at least twelve singers, and more can be added as desired. The choir was usually accompanied by instruments. In the Bet Hamikdash, the choir chanted every day of the week a different chapter from the book of Tehillim. We, today, recite it at the end of our daily morning prayers. In music, there are 24 octaves. It is said that the Leviim knew a 25th, which was instrumental in expediting the prayers to the heavens.
(5:7) One of the major aspects of teshuvah – repentance – is confession. One can repent only if he recognizes and regrets his sin. However, there cannot be atonement for the sin without an oral confession. That opportunity is given to us on Yom Kippur. In our prayers, the Sages instituted a section of confession. We find King David acknowledging his sin with Batsheva and making an oral confession which was a major aspect for G-d to accept his forgiveness. However, we find human nature a little reluctant to go forth with confession. One person that immediately comes to mind is the former baseball player/manager, who bet on baseball while wearing the uniform, Pete Rose. The evidence was clear and a number of commissioners over the years (baseball’s highest authoritative positions) were waiting for Rose to acknowledge his sin. He never did, therefore, never validating him to be on the ballot for the Hall of Fame. It is ashamed because he is considered one of the best in the game.
- Sotah – If a husband warned his wife “do not seclude yourself with so-and-so” and subsequently two witnesses observe that she did seclude herself in private with that same man (for a period of time, in which, she could become defiled) she becomes forbidden to her husband until the laws of sotah are enacted. However, if even one witness testifies that she actually committed adultery, the test of the sotah waters was not conducted; instead she was permanently forbidden to her husband.
The word sotah, which the Torah uses to describe a woman suspected of infidelity, denotes fool. This woman did not consider the result of her conduct sufficiently. She was swept away by passion and desire. Had she been wise, her fear of G-d would have overcome the foolish behavior. Now, if two witnesses testify she’s a sotah, the husband can either divorce her or he can report the event to a local Bet Din – Rabbinical Court.
If the woman in question insists she was pure and was willing to drink the water of the sotah, the case is transferred to the great Sanhedrin, where she is lead to the Eastern gate (which is the entrance gate of the Azarah). The authorities try to make her confess so she would not have to go through the humiliation and grotesque death. If she is adamant that she is innocent, the kohanim are then obligated by G-d’s command to put her on public display where many women have come to watch.
The Kohen, at this point, gives her a lengthy speech in which he warns her how the bitter waters can be miraculously beneficial if one is found to be pure. (If she is childless, she now will have children; if she has only girls, she’ll have boys or will be blessed with a nice balance.) However, if a strange man has defiled you, the waters will cause your thighs and then your limbs to fall off. Your belly will swell and burst. The same will happen to the adulterer. The sotah affirms the oath by answering “amen” twice, implying “I was never defiled with this particular man nor any other man during my marriage.” The Kohen would then write the oath on a parchment similar to the Torah’s, but with erasable ink and would write G-d’s four letter name that appears twice in the text in full. He would bring a new earth link vessel, fill it with water from the kiyor, sprinkle onto dust taken from the ground of the sanctuary and a bitter herb, to convert it into the bitter waters.
Finally, he erases the document in the water mixture until no trace of the letters remained.The next part of the ceremony consisted of disgracing the sotah in public. The final part of the ceremony is the drinking, and the result depended on her.
- Anti-drinking campaign – The Torah wishes to juxtapose the subject of Nazir with the subject of sotah, in order to suggest witnessing a sotah’s disgrace, and thus comprehending the immoderate drinking, which leads to immorality, should influence one to vow to abstain from wine.
- Nazir – A man or woman who pronounces the words “I wish to be a nazir (nezira) is bound for the next 30 days to refrain from:
1.) Drinking wine and all grape derivatives 2.) Shearing the hair 3.) Having contact with the dead.
The reason why one might consider this temporary strict lifestyle, is because he may feel overwhelmed and preoccupied with the fulfillment of his physical desires and therefore cannot concentrate on spiritual matters.
Birkat kohanim – the blessing of the Kohen: Why does it say in the bracha before the blessing “bless the nation of Israel with love”? What’s love got to do with it and why is Aharon’s name mentioned? Aharon was a man of peace who fused together many people whose life was shattered through strife. His love for his fellow Jew was unprecedented; he did it with love and brought tremendous amount of brotherly love amongst our people. If the Kohanim would merit the love that their ancestors possessed for the nation of Israel, we would all benefit in a tremendous way.
Sixth & Seventh Portions:
This portion is read every day in the month of Nisan because the event took place on Rosh Chodesh, Nisan, the eighth day of the inauguration of the temple. The Nisi’im – heads of each tribe – donated eagerly with the most sincere of hearts. Therefore, these passages are subject to many segulot (merits). People read it daily to merit them with parnasa, shidduchim, and many requests. It’s also recited as the Torah portion reading for the holiday of Chanukah.
Credit to: Rabbi Avi Matmon