Numbers 4:21 – 7:89: Haftarah: Judges 13:2 – 13:25
In this second portion of the book of Numbers, we begin by asking ourselves why did the wise men of old who divided the “parasha” the way they did? In fact, it seems to be much more natural and logical to being our parasha this week at the end of what is today chapter 3 (there were no chapter divisions in the ancient text), but somehow the ancient sages wanted to communicate something to us by dividing the text here. As we study this division, we realise that the account of the sons of Kohath and their duty indeed belongs with the main theme of last week’s portion which was rooted in creation and generation. Moving to this week’s portion we study the temporal shift that leads us systematically from the 1st of the month of Iyar (the date of the beginning of the book of Numbers) back in time – to the “eighth day” (chapters 8-10 of Leviticus) passing through scenarios of leprosy, the fertility of the “woman” and the consecrated person. Having come full circle, we are ready to depart from mt. Sinai in the followings week’s parasha.
(Num 4:6) Theodoret of Cyr – Questions on Numbers 6Why did God command that some of the sacred vessels should be covered with blue veils and others with purple veils?
Only the veils of the more precious vessels were blue. The color suggests the sky. For this reason God commanded the objects behind the veil to be covered with blue tapestry but the objects outside it with purple and colors like it. For the sky is not subject to punishment, but the earth is punished for transgressions of the law. The color purple signifies a kingdom. The kingdom of God is divine, without beginning and indestructible. Hence the objects outside the tent were covered with veils both purple and blue. When the household of Kohath exercised their office, the law commanded that the priests should first enter the sanctuary and cover the ark and the other vessels with the veils already mentioned. Only then would the household of Kohath transport these objects, lest they lay eyes on things that are sacred and secret and that would destroy those who see them accidentally.(Num 4:13) Babylonian Talmud y. Yoma 4:6, I.4.I–TThe following Tannaite teaching supports the view of R. Joshua b. Levi:
“[It will be kept burning] continually” (Lev. 6:12). “Continually”―even on the Sabbath. “Continually”―even in a state of uncleanness [so too, when making a journey].
The following Tannaite teaching supports the view of R. Yohanan:
“It shall not go out” (Lev. 6:12)―even on journeys.
“On journeys what did they do with [the fire]? They would cover it over with a psykter,” the words of R. Judah.
R. Simeon says, “Also in the time of journeying they would take the ashes off of it, as it is said, ‘And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it’ (Num. 4:13).
“Lo, if the altar was aflame, would the purple cloth not burn up?”
How does R. Judah interpret this verse?
They would place a psykter over [the fire] on top.
How does R. Judah interpret the statement “And they shall take away the ashes from the altar” (Num. 4:13)?
They fatten it [accumulating ashes].
That is in accord with what R. Judah b. Pazzi said, “ ‘When they have eaten and are full and grown fat’ (Deut. 31:20).”(Num 5:6) Theodoret of Cyr – Questions on Numbers 9What does this mean: “if any man or woman commits one of all the human sins”?1
Scripture call the smaller sins human. It is not possible for human nature, subject to change as it is, to be delivered from every sin. For “no one is clean from filth, even if his life is one day long.” (Ps 143:2) This is why holy David says, “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for in your sight no living man will be justified.” Only Christ the Lord, both as God and as man, is blameless. The prophet Isaiah foresaw this and said, “He committed no transgression, nor was deceit found in his mouth.” (Is 53:9) For this reason he took upon himself the sins of others, for he had none of his own. For Isaiah also says, “He bears our sins, and he is afflicted for us.” *(Is 53:4) And the great John says, “Behold the lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world.” (Jn 1:29) For this reason he is also called “free among the dead,” (Ps 88:5, Greek) since he suffered death unjustly. The divine law teaches how those who have sinned moderately are to be healed. For the law commands that he who has done wrong in a matter of contracts should first confess the sin and then give back what was taken to the one he wronged, adding one fifth to the principal. If it happens that the one wronged dies before the sinner repents of his sin, he should pay the amount to the man’s nearest relative. The law names as his nearest relative the one related to him by generation. The order of generation is this: first his son, then his daughter, then the brother of his father, then the brother of his grandfather. If there is none of these, then it should be another close kinsman. If no kinsman can be found, the law declares that he should offer the stated sum to God. For the law says this: “If the man has no near relative, so that the sinner can give him what he owes, then the debt is paid to the Lord in the person of the priest, except for the ram of expiation, through which expiation is made for him.”9 The law mandates that the priests should eat the first fruits that are offered. For the Levites were the first fruits of the people, and the priests were the first fruits of the Levites. As first fruits, then, they acquire the first fruits.