In the famous Abbott and Costello routine, hysterics ensue when the name of the first baseman is “Who,” confusing the question word with a proper noun. Similarly, it can sound like a comedy routine the first time we learn that in Hebrew, me means who, hu means he, and he means she. Without knowing the specifics of the context, it’s difficult to understand what is going on. Just as in speech, we will often use context cues to understand a situation in our texts.
This week we read parshat Naso, the second portion in sefer Bamidbar. The narrative picks up with a second counting of the people; laws about how we are to treat one another and the property that we own; the blessing of the priests to the people; and the laws of the Nazir, detailing how we might dedicate ourselves directly to God. Among these laws is the notion of connection to a community, to God, and to the greater “people.”
The text begins with God speaking to Moshe, telling him to take another counting of the people. Chapter 4, verse 22 reads, “Take also a census of the sons of Gershon, throughout the houses of their fathers, by their families.” The English translation seems easily understood, but the Hebrew leaves an opening for interpretation. It begins with the word נשא, which can mean to lift, take, carry, marry, forgive, or suffer. Given the context – and perhaps even knowledge of grammatical rules – the reader is easily able to intuit which meaning of the root is intended.
Especially with a root like this, you have to pay careful attention to the use in order to understand a text, and, at the same time, we can see how each meaning of this root must be related. Reading this verse, we understand that the census which is taken so often is intended to announce how many people are a part of each tribe and thus the nation.
We also have the responsibility to lift up one another in our relationships and as members of our communities. As a part of the Levine Academy community this year, we have raised each other up with our learning, our friendships, and our commitment or “marriage” to the notion that we must say Hineini, I am here. Students said Hineini when they recognized the suffering of others and worked towards supporting one another with the Berry Family bracelet initiative and Dollars for Denim. Over 75 families participated in our Kindle the Spark learning community and Daven and Donuts, lifting up our voices in prayer and our souls with learning. We have stood up and been counted as we helped transform our school into “No Place for Hate” and helped to lift the burden of hunger during our Rosh Hodesh food drives.
This week, the final week of school during the 2011-12 school year, we read parshat Naso, and we are reminded that as a community we can look back not only on our fabulous programs, but on how we’ve lifted each other up, carried each other through good times and bad, and found ourselves fulfilled and blessed to be a part of our special place. While words can sometimes have more than one meaning, our actions and learning this year have moved us deeper into our relationship with one another and lifted up our school to a holy community. May we move forward from strength to strength and come together again to learn and grow.