June 18, 2016 – 12 Sivan 5776
Annual (Numbers 4:21-7:89): Etz Hayim p. 791; Hertz p. 586
Triennial (Numbers 7:1-89): Etz Hayim p. 805; Hertz p. 596
Haftarah (Judges 13:2-25): Etz Hayim p. 813; Hertz p. 602
What a lot of things you do use ‘Good morning’ for!
Jeremy Tabick, a native of London and a CY alum, has an MA in Talmud from JTS and works for Mechon Hadar and Project Zug.
“Good morning!” said Bilbo…
“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
So much of communication is based in context, not just the meaning of our words.
When the sotah, the woman suspected by her husband of adultery, is brought before the priest to drink the bitter waters, he reads a declaration to her, “making her swear” that if she has done nothing, the waters will not harm her; but if she is an adulteress, then the waters will have a terrible effect on her. “And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, amen!’” (Numbers 5:19, 22).
The Talmud understands that “Amen,” just like “good morning,” can mean different things in different contexts. “Rabbi Yose bar Rabbi Hanina said: ‘Amen’ can imply an oath, a receipt of words, or an affirmation of words” (Bavli Shevuot 36a). The Talmud then finds a verse for each usage. As an oath (שבועה), it cites the sotah’s “Amen.” Even though the priest says the words, her “Amen” constitutes her oath.
As receipt of words (קבלת דברים), the Talmud cites the curses in Deuteronomy: [the Levites recite] “‘Cursed is the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to do them;’ and all the people said, ‘Amen’” (27:26). Here “Amen” means something like, “Received and understood”—the people agree to uphold the conditions just stipulated.
For an affirmation of words (האמנת דברים), the Talmud quotes Jeremiah’s response to the prophet Hananiah, “Amen, may God do this; may God uphold your words” (28:6). Jeremiah has prophesied the destruction of the southern kingdom (Judah) at the hands of Babylon; Hananiah has foretold the end of Babylon. Jeremiah’s “Amen” here is somewhat mocking: “Would that it would happen,” knowing full well that, unfortunately, it won’t.
Today, we use “Amen” almost exclusively in the context of prayer. What can these different shades of “Amen” mean to us? Rashi (Shevuot 36a) explicitly links the example of Jeremiah to this “Amen”, since, saying “Amen” to a prayer shows it is our desire that it should come true. But Jeremiah’s “Amen” comes with an underside: the skepticism and irony of responding to a claim that we know to be false. And I’m sure many of us have experienced both of these meanings during our prayers.
I encourage you to think: what do you mean when you say “Amen”? Are you affirming your belief in the prayer? Are you acknowledging that you have heard and understood it? Are you wishing that the prayer would come true, even when you know that it can’t or is unlikely?
Just like our uses of the phrase, “Good morning”, I suspect that many different meanings of “Amen” have a place in our prayer lives, at different times of the year, and at different life stages. And, just like Gandalf, it’s always useful to know exactly which one you mean.
A Vort for Parashat Naso
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
In Num 5:6-7 there is a subtle change in grammar – “when a man or woman [singular] commits a sin … they [plural] shall confess the wrong they have done.” Harav Mordechai HaKohen (Israel, 20th C) says that when a Jew in a community commits a sin, the others should ask forgiveness and do tshuva (penitence), for perhaps there was something that they could have done, in education, community services, or by playing closer attention, that may have been able to prevent the wrong that was committed. Kol yisrael aravem zeh l’zeh – all Jews are interconnected and have responsibility one for the other. We should keep our eyes open and be ready to help.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
As we approach the end of the material regarding the Tabernacle, holiness and purity (the “Holiness Code”) we have a few related topics that do not involve [mainly] sacrifices. At least one has endured until today.
1) The Parasha opens with the special responsibilities in the tabernacle of two branches of the tribe of Levi. What are the responsibilities of the family of Gershon (Num. 4:21-28)? When would this be needed? At the end of the Parasha we see that they had some assistance. What was it (7:2-7)?
2) If a person is found guilty of theft s/he is not incarcerated. What have to do (5:7)? What would be the logic in the process? (Note that the person has to do 3 things.) What process do you think is more better – the Torah method or incarceration? Why?
3) The Torah gives an option of taking a nazirite vow. What is a nazirite person required not to do (6:1-8)? Is being a nazirite a requirement for anyone? What might push a person to take on such a vow?
4) The preistly blessing appears in this Parasha (6:24-26). What does it mean that God will bless you? How does God grant you grace? What is the last thing that God shall give you? Why is this the closing ‘blessing’?
5) The closing of this Parasha (7:12-83) tells of the events of the dedication (hanuka) of the alter, with the focus on the lay leaders. (This is the reading for Hannuka.) The leader of each tribe brought exactly the same things as the rest. Why do you think that the Torah chose to record each one separately and not do with a summary?