Misappropriation

Numberstosefta_geniza_fragment_t-s_e1-137-temurah_4-12-meilah_1-8_t-s_e1-137vd and Leviticus are antithetical. Leviticus is mostly law with a little narrative sprinkled for diversity, while Numbers is mostly narrative with some law intermingled. Parsha Naso, like the book of Numbers in which it resides, has narrative but it also has a few laws stuck in for added flavor. To get our best understanding of Naso[1], we need to pair it with the parsha in Leviticus that happened at the same time: Shemini[2].

The Mishkan[3] was completed and the Shechinah[4] came and filled the Tabernacle at the end of the book of Exodus. Thereafter, the seven-day dedication of the priests and Cohen Gadol[5] occurred. Parsha Shemini begins the day, and begins the twelve-day dedication of the Mishkan. The offerings and gifts brought by the 12 leaders of the land-owning tribes are listed in Naso. Unfortunately, on that first day, when Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah gave his offerings, Nadav and Avihu[6] died while presenting ish zarah[7] before Hashem. In two separated but probably consecutive dialogues, G-d warns the Cohanim[8] of two things, based upon the deaths of these two gentlemen:

  • they are not to drink wine prior to performing duties at the Mishkan[9]
  • no one is to enter the holiest place except Aaron and only on Yom Kippur[10]

The Mishkan, now constructed, is portable and people will bring sacrifices and gifts to Hashem. This presents a special problem, and Parsha Naso deals with this issue: Meilah[11], which is presented in Leviticus[12]. This is the law against personal use of Temple or Tabernacle property, which also includes things dedicated or given to Levites, the Cohanim, and the Cohen Gadol.

If you ask those who own or manage retail stores, some worry is given to petty retail theft of minor product, but the theft that retail stores truly fear – the loss of a whole shipment – can be the difference between solvency and disaster. When product is moved from one location to another, that’s when the threat of loss is the greatest. This is why there are so many movies and books about high-stakes theft featuring an armored car or some other vehicle.

In like manner, the parts of the tabernacle, the menorah, the Aron[13], are generally not in threat of theft – except when they are used inappropriately as in the early days of the prophet Shmuel[14]. The articles under the greatest threat of theft are the items given as gifts to the Tabernacle. Those items needed to be carried from place to place, and like any other attempt to move product, things disappear. Meilah[15] deals with the loss of this as well as the loss of things promised when the promise is left unfulfilled. Since the Tabernacle was complete, our stay at the base of Har Sinai was coming to a close, and this involved moving the Tabernacle 30 times after the Sinai encampment[16] until the death of Moshe.

 

Photo Credit: Geniza Fragment T-S E1.137 featuring t.Temurah 4:12 – t.Meilah 1:8

 

[1] Numbers 4:21 – 7:89

[2] Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47

[3] mishkan

[4] glory of G-d

[5] High Priest

[6] the two eldest sons of Aaron

[7] unauthorized or strange fire

[8] priests

[9] Leviticus 10:8-11

[10] Leviticus 16:1-2, Hebrews 9:7

[11] m.Meilah, t.Meilah, and b.Meilah

[12] Leviticus 5:14-16

[13] the Ark of the Covenant

[14] 1 Samuel 4:4-10; the Philistines returned the Aron with gold gifts as restitution for their misappropriation [the Asham or guilt offering is explained in Leviticus 5:1-26 (esp. 14-16) and 7:1-10, and the restitution given by the Philistines is described in 1 Samuel 6:3-5]

[15] a tractate in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Bavli

[16] Numbers 33:3-49

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