Rav Richard



NASSOThe second parashah (Torah reading) in the book of Numbers (B'midbar) is named Nasso. This word is found in Numbers 4:22, which says, "Take a census of the sons of Gershon..." (NAS). A more literal tran-slation would be, "Lift up the heads of the sons of Gershon." The Hebrew word nasso literally means elevate or marry. Obviously, in context we are not talking about marriage in this chapter. We are counting the "heads" of the Levites between 30 and 50 years old. Since each of these men had only one head, the total number of heads equaled the total number Levite men between 30 and 50 years old, which was 8580 men (Num. 4:48).

     In the previous parashah, B'midbar, we had a census of the men who were able to serve in the newly formed army of Israel, which was 603,550 (Num. 1:46). The Levites were not to serve in the military. Therefore, the Levites were not counted in that earlier census. Instead, the duties of the Levites revolved around the ohel mo'ed (tent of meeting) and worship. At a later date, their duties revolved around the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple that was built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.[1]

     As mentioned in the first paragraph above, the word Nasso (נשׂא) can mean lift up, elevate, or marry. This is the command or imperative version of the verb.  This makes very little sense in English that the same word that means lift up can also mean marry, which is normally transliterated as nasa (same Hebrew spelling as the word for lift up). However, in earlier centuries, it was customary after the wedding for a Jewish groom to lift up his bride and carry her to the home that he had been preparing for the past year. This is no longer done. I'm not sure of the reason. Perhaps the brides got too heavy, or the grooms got too weak! You tell me. However, remnants of this tradition can be found in the modern tradition of the groom picking up the bride and carrying her across the threshold of their first home, as is often done even after Gentile weddings.

     The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has as its acronym NASA, which is most famous for putting men on the moon. However, NASA has also sent many satellites into orbit, as well as many unmanned rockets into space, ambitiously exploring our solar system, including all the planets and their moons, as well as comets and asteroids. As a result, we have amazing pictures of the planets and their moons and the know-ledge of our solar system has increased exponentially.

     NASA has also launched rockets that have gone well beyond the orbit  of Pluto, and are now in interstellar space. It is interesting that this highly successful organization has the acronym NASA. In Hebrew, it means lift up or elevate. What does NASA do? It "lifts up" rockets into space! Is this just a coincidence? Possibly. But it is also possible some Jewish guy in the organization chose a name that would also have a very appropriate acronym, like NASA.

     I would like to revert to my previous comments about marriage and weddings. The first wedding described in the Bible is in Genesis 29, although I am sure that there were weddings before that. In Genesis 29, there is already the tradition of the seven-day pre-wedding feast, which we see repeated with Samson's wedding, in Judges 14:12. At the wedding in Cana, in Yochanan (John) 2:6, we have the miracle in which Yeshua turned the water into wine. This involved the water in six water pots, each containing 20 to 30 gallons of water (about 100 liters). The water pots were used for storing water for the mikveh (a bath used for tevilah (immersion for ritual cleansing purposes).

     Some Baptists might say, "Well, this was new wine," which they assume to be non-alcoholic. However, Hosea 4:11 tells us that even new wine "takes away understanding," perhaps like the May wine in Germany, which is partially fermented to about six percent alcohol. Yeshua did the miracle of producing about 600 liters of wine. Biblically, drunkenness is considered a sin, so I assume that this was spread out to a seven-day pre-wedding feast. I don't believe Yeshua would have encouraged drunkenness, although it was a real party!  Jewish weddings are festive occasions in which the wine flows. However, alcoholism has traditionally not been a Jewish vice.

     Sometime in the Inter-Testamental [2] period, it became the tradition to have a betrothal (erusin), which was usually about 12 months. There were no sexual relations during that period. However, to break this "engagement" period would require a get (bill of divorcement), just as would be required for dissolving a marriage. It was during this "betrothal" period that the groom would go to prepare a place for his bride, usually on his father's property. Yeshua gave us a similar analogy when He said, "Let your heart not be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many dwellings. If it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also." [3] Yeshua went to prepare a place for us, and He will return for all who have accepted Him as Messiah and Savior. After 2,000 years, I am sure this place is fabulous!

     Since about the 16th Century, the two ceremonies of erusin (betrothal) and nisu'in (marriage) have been performed on the same day, separated only by the reading of the ketubah (marriage contract), which contains the mutual obligations between the bride and groom. The groom pledges a certain sum of money in the event of his death or divorce. The ketubah is often quite ornate, and written in Aramaic. A brief excerpt: "Be my wife according to the Law of Moses and Israel. I will work for you, and maintain you in accordance with the custom of Jewish husbands who work for their wives, honoring and supporting them, and maintaining them in truth..." [4] After the reading, it is handed over to the bride as a prized possession.

     It was part of HaShem's[5] permissive will to have more than one wife. However, His perfect will from the beginning is for a man to only have one wife. "For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become basar echad (one flesh)."  [6] In the beginning, it was Adam and Chava (Eve), and not Adam and Eve and Marcia, and certainly not Adam and Steve. From the very beginning, marriage was HaShem's perfect will for a heterosexual union between one man and one woman. One day, when Adam came home late, Chava (Eve) accused him, saying, "Have you been with another woman?" Adam denied the accusation, saying, "Of course not! Look, count my ribs!"

     Another element of the Jewish wedding is the khupa, or wedding cano-py. This can be a beau-tifully embroidered large piece of cloth, or it can be a large tallit (prayer shawl). The couple getting married stand beneath the khupa. There are various theories regarding the ori-gin of the khupa (also spelled chupa). The ver-sion I prefer is that it is reminiscent of the tent ceremony in biblical times, when it was customary to bring the veiled bride into the groom's tent. The portable canopy (khupa) originally was in front of the synagogue, under the canopy of heaven. Marriages were not performed by rabbis until the 14th Century, perhaps in imitation of Christian weddings, which were performed by clergy. According to the Talmud, any Jew can perform the wedding ceremony. Eventually, the khupa and ceremony moved into the synagogue.

     The bride walks around the groom seven times under the khupa as part of the ceremony. This is done as an acting out of the verse from Jeremiah: "For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth - A woman shall encompass a man." [7]   

     Sexuality was (and is) respectfully discussed openly in the Jewish family and in the yeshivas.[8] Sexual intercourse, however, was (and is) within the confines of marriage. The bride and groom look forward to actually having sex with each other. However, they withhold sex from each other until the wedding night, saving it as a special gift to give to each other on the wedding night. The system apparently works. Traditionally, the Jewish divorce rate is much lower than society in general, with much more stable marriages.

     Another place in the Bible where this word is used is in Exodus 6:8. In my NAS Bible, it reads: "And I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob..." However, the correct Hebrew translation is: "And I will bring you to the land which I raised my hand to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob..." The same Hebrew shoresh[9] (נשׂא) is used in this verse. This is the reason that when you are asked to swear to tell the truth in court, they ask you to "raise your hand." It's an ancient Hebrew tradition that has been passed on to modern times. This Hebraism of "raising my hand" is not used in Christian translations, unfortunately. Even Dr. David Stern's Complete Jewish Bible paraphrases this word as "swore." I happen to prefer literal translations. Such more literal translations should also contain a footnote to explain what the Hebraism means.

     This same Hebrew word is used many times in Scripture for such things as lifting up one's eyes, lifting up one's voice, lifting up one's feet, etc. However, when lifting up one's hand, it means to "swear" that something is true.

     Curiously, there is no word for smile in Biblical Hebrew. Instead, as in Job 11:15 (using the same Hebrew shoresh), the expression for smile is to "lift up" one's face. As an alternative expression, in Numbers 6:26, God "illuminates" his face. This makes sense. When you smile, your face is lifted up and seems to brighten a bit!

     Also, there is no word in Biblical Hebrew for frown. Instead, as with Cain in Genesis 4:8, "his countenance (face) fell." They say that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. Also, the muscles that get used more get stronger! So those who smile more generally have happier faces.

     We aren't responsible for the faces we have as children. However, we bear some responsibility for the faces we have as adults. Eventually things such as bitterness begin to show on our faces. And when you smile, you feel better. Even when on the phone, the person you are talking to can't see you. But when you smile, you feel better, and the person on the other end can see you smiling in his mind's eye.

     By the way, the Hebrew word for "face" is panim, which is a plural word. Why? Well, it is because we each have many different faces: when we smile, when we frown, when we are happy, when we are sad, when we are angry, and when we are afraid. And our faces change as we go through life, from a baby to child, to adult, and to old age. And, of course, the ladies can change the face with makeup, and the fellows can grow whiskers or shave. Like I said, we have many faces.

     There's an unfortunate expression: "Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you cry alone." I say, "unfortunate," because that person who is crying may need some comfort and support. However, most people do indeed prefer the company of happy people. Happiness is often dependant on circumstances. However, God can give us a joy that surpasses all circumstances. Rav Shaul (Paul) tells us that despite affliction, we can have the "joy of the Holy Spirit" in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. That is a joy that surpasses all circumstances, a joy that the world can't give.

     The term nasso can also be applied to the Rapture, that time in which Yeshua "lifts up" his people to Heaven. The term "Rapture" is a non-biblical term. However, it is the term that is applied to 1 Corinthians 15:51-53: "Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep (Bible talk for "die"), but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last shofar. For the shofar shall sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." At some point after that, we have the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-10), which also ties in nicely with the term nasso.       נשׂ

[1] "Common Era," equivalent to A.D.

[2] Time between the writing of the Tanakh & NT.

[3] Yochanan (John) 14:1-3.

[4] Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts, P. Birnbaum.

[5] Hebrew for "The Name (of God)."

[6] Genesis 2:24.

[7] Jeremiah 31:22 (31:21 in Jewish Bibles).

[8] Jewish religious schools.

[9] Shoresh means "root" or "root word."