Parshat Nasso, Numbers 4:21-7:89
A few weeks ago at a shiva home, I heard a bereaved mother speak lovingly of her beloved daughter, Rivka. She related how, until Rivka’s funeral, she hadn’t fully appreciated her daughter’s kindness and love.
Rivka was especially kind and had a special circle of friends. In particular, she had two friends who were sisters, the younger one born without arms. At the funeral, Rivka’s mother fell into the arms of the older sister, crying over her loss. As she lifted her eyes, she noticed the younger sister standing on the side, quiet, maybe even lost.
The mother, continuing her story, said, “It dawned on me at that moment that I had not hugged or touched [the younger sister].” Not today, not ever.
Many of us share a discomfort or uneasiness to act when approaching such unique situations. Due in part to our own sensitivities and flaws, we very often freeze and disengage.
This week’s Parsha is called Nasso. The context in our Torah portion is that Moses should count and take a census of the family of Gershon from the tribe of Levi. The Hebrew word used in these verses for census is “nasso.” Yet, the word nasso literally means to uplift. When we count something, we are pointing out its uniqueness, weighing it, revealing aspects that may not have been noticed.
At a Lag B’Omer parade in the 1980s, the director noticed the great pleasure and nachas the Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM had from the day’s celebration. Leading up to the parade, the director had been going through a rough patch, and so now he turned to the Rebbe and thanked him for schlepping him out of his depression.
The Rebbe, with a large smile and rising sweep of his hand, responded, “Schlepped? Uplifted!”
This week we celebrated Shavuot, commemorating the day on which we stood before G-d at Mount Sinai as one man, with one heart. At this unique event, G-d chose each of us to be His — each individual Jewish man, woman and child was personally chosen and desired by G-d, to bring light and warmth to this world through the fulfillment of mitzvot and the study of Torah.
Each time we look at an individual and notice him or her, we are in some manner “sizing them up” and taking a figurative “census.” Just by looking, we are subconsciously quantifying them: Are they passive or aggressive, kind or mean? This need to assess and measure everything we see, hear or smell comes from our basic survival instinct to be safe. We are intrinsically asking, “Is what I have noticed dangerous or safe?”
Sadly, this tendency can also destroy lives and shatter identities if not focused correctly. So the Torah teaches us to always recognize the special essence and G-dly bond of each individual, even as we are in the mundane world of physical imperfection.
The Torah is teaching us that whenever we meet someone and begin taking notice of them and their unique character, flaws and all, we must make sure to simultaneously uplift them. Every encounter with another should be uplifting, in which both individuals feel special and loved. This can only be accomplished when we concentrate solely on seeing the unique love that G-d has for each of us.
Nasso — whenever you notice and evaluate another, uplift! Make them feel loved and valued; make their day brighter by noticing how significant they are. Uplift!
As the mother hugged this girl for the first time, she deeply appreciated what a special daughter she had. And Rivka, wanting to ensure that her friends — and all people — always feel uplifted, continues to teach us what “love your neighbor as yourself” truly means.
Rabbi Elchonon Friedman is spiritual leader of Bnai Emunoh Chabad, Greenfield. This column is provided by the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.