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Home » Education, Naso

Naso: Give Your Fellow A Lift

Submitted by on June 11, 2019 – 7:27 pmNo Comment | 1,871 views

Lift is an interesting word. In America, you give someone a lift, when you drive them to their destination. In England, it refers to an elevator. The British meaning makes more sense. A lift should lift you vertically; not transport you horizontally.

The concept of vertical lift is the subject of this week’s Torah portion, which is called Naso, Hebrew for lift. The theme of lifting began in the previous portion in which G-d instructed Moses to count the Jewish people. G-d then instructed Moses to count the tribe of Levi, and this counting spilled over into this week’s Torah portion. However, instead of telling Moses to count the Jews, G-d told him to lift them. One way of understanding this is what when you are counted, you are lifted from anonymity.

The Baal Shem Tov
In 1734, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, who had long served as the chief rabbi of a secret Kabbalistic society, began to disseminate his teachings in public. He taught an original method of serving G-d and revealed a new depth to the Torah’s teachings. With this, he founded the Chassidic movement.

It was a radically new approach, but it was entirely rooted in classical Jewish thought. Over the years these ideas came to be overlooked or dismissed and the Baal Shem Tov restored them by revealing their hitherto unknown meaning and depth. Among the radical shifts of the Baal Shem Tov’s approach, was that G-d loves the simpleton. Torah scholars are the pillars of the Jewish community, but G-d’s enduring love is reserved for the simple Jew, who hardly reads Hebrew, but who serves G-d with a full heart.

The Baal Shem Tov took the instruction to lift the Jewish people literally. He made it his mission to lift the spirits and perspectives of simple Jews. He comforted them by explaining that when they chant a verse from Psalms with sincerity, their cries pierce the heavens. When they speak to G-d in the vernacular as one speaks to a friend, G-d melts in ecstasy. When they thank G-d honestly and wholeheartedly, the celestial angels dance for joy. He told them that G-d appreciates their wholehearted observance more than the insightful wisdom of the Torah scholars. With this teaching, among others, The Baal Shem Tov literally lifted the Jewish masses from their drudgery.

However, as one can well imagine, these teachings didn’t go over well with many Torah scholars. Their position, as elite servants of G-d, was threatened. They weren’t merely concerned for their ego. They sincerely worried that enshrining ignorance would be doubly harmful. Firstly, unlearned Jews would not be motivated to study. Secondly, they would cease to take direction from those who knew the law.

Sixty years later, in the summer of 1783, Jewish opposition to Chassidism was still strong. One of the leading Chassidic masters, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement, visited Minsk, a stronghold of opposition, and offered to explain the tenets of Chassidism. The leaders of the opposition challenged Rabi Shneur Zalman to explain where the Torah tells us that a simple Jew is more precious to G-d than a Torah scholar.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: My saintly teacher, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch, taught me the following in the name of the Baal Shem Tov. The Talmud tells us that a person is compared to a tree. The fruit bearing tree represents the Torah scholar who bears the fruit of study.[1] Asked, the holy Baal Shem Tov, if the fruit tree represents the Torah scholar, which tree represents the simpleton who doesn’t know the Torah and is not familiar with its teachings? The Baal Shem Tov explained that the simpleton is represented by the thorn bush.

G-d revealed Himself to Moses for he first time, as a flame in a thorn bush. The fire licked at the bush, but the bush was not consumed. The Baal Shem Tov pointed out that the Torah does not simply describe the fire as esh. The Torah describes it as labat esh. Labat means flame. Labat esh—a flame of fire. But the etymology of the word lev, Hebrew for heart, is also similar to labat. The Baal Shem tov, therefore, translated labat as heart. Labat esh—the heart of the fire.

Said, the Baal Shem Tov, fire represents the Jew’s yearning and passion for G-d. Every Jew has a fire, but the heart of this fire can only be found in the thorn bush, the ordinary, unlearned, simple Jews, who cannot quench their thirst for G-d. The heart of fire cannot be found among Torah scholars because they know how to quench their thirst. When they seek closeness with G-d, they find it in their Torah studies. But the unlearned don’t know how to study Torah. Their thirst remains unquenched, and thus continues to grow inexorably hotter until the heart is completely aflame.

As they chant the words of Psalms, their heart of fire glows hot; it tears through the thorn bush and infuses their prayer with searing passion. Yet, the thorn bush is not consumed. These ordinary Jews are so committed to G-d, so devoted to Judaism, that though they know little of its traditions and rituals, they are committed to remaining within the fold. The thorn bush is not consumed.

The fruit tree, concluded Rabbi Shneur Zalman, is holy. But its fire is not as searing as that of the thorn bush. It quenches its own thirst and thus never grows hot. Moses understood that despite his brilliant wisdom, pure passion for G-d can be only found in the simplicity of the Jewish heart. He was thus drawn to the bush and wanted to be part of it. But G-d gave Moses a mission. Go to Egypt and liberate the people. Bring them to this mountain and give them the Torah.

Lift Up
Ultimately the message was that we cannot allow the unlearned to remain unlearned. Despite the wonderful bond that they share with G-d, the Torah belongs to them too and they too must study it. Go to Egypt, said G-d, find the simple Jews, and bring them to Sinai where I will turn them into scholars. Jews have always had an ethos of education. We were never content to let our children grow up ignorant.

Because of this ethos, the fears of those who opposed Chassidism were never realized. The simple Jews that the Baal Shem Tov lifted by giving them pride, purpose, and hope, went on to study the Torah and teach it to their children. Empowering a Jewish soul doesn’t lead that soul away from Torah, it leads the soul to the Torah. It lifts them up.

This brings us back to the theme of our Parshah, Naso, lift. Every single Jew is a treasure. Each has spiritual diamonds and gems hidden within. We must find the precious and the valuable in each Jew and work to lift them up. Once lifted, they will desire to rise further, and will devote themselves to a life of holiness, goodness, and Torah. They, in turn, will lift others, who will, in turn, pay the favor forward.

Positivity spreads. Negativity kills. Let’s fill the world with positive energy and give each other a lift. If we lift others when they are in need, others will lift us when we are in need.[2]


[1] Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 7a.

[2] This essay is based on Sefer Hasichos 5702, pp. 46-47.

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