Volume 30 Issue 14 21 May 2021 10 Sivan 5781

Head of Jewish Life

Rabbi Daniel Siegel – Head of Jewish Life

את פניך יהוה אבקש אל תסתר פניך ממני

I Seek Your Face, Do Not Hide Your Face from Me

This week’s parashah is the longest Torah Portion, with 176 verses. Were it not to include 72 identical verses, describing the exact same offering brought by the chieftain of each tribe, in dedicating the Mishkan (Tabernacle), it would not be of noteworthy length. Perhaps the purpose in presenting this litany of verses can be found in the name of the parashah, נשא/naso.

The root letters נשא (nun, sin, aleph) can lead to a variation of words and meanings.

נשא/naso, in the very beginning of this parashah, means to take a census-literally “Raise/lift the heads of…”. This may explain why the chieftains of each tribe are called נשיאים/Nesi’im, for they were elevated above their brethren.

Relatedly נשא/nasa, means to carry (a burden, משא/masa), used in this parashah to discuss the duties of the clans regarding porterage of the Mishkan. It is also used in this same Torah reading to declare that an adulteress woman will bear תשא/tisa her sin.

A well-known use of these root letters can be found in the celebrated priestly blessing that lies at the centre of this parashah:

ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום  ישא 

May the Lord bestow his favour (yisa –literally “lift His face”) upon you and grant you peace

Soon after this blessing of God granting favor/lifting his face (ישא ה’ פניו) we find the litany of verses describing the identical offerings brought by the נשיאים/Nesi’im, the chieftains of the Israelite tribes. This blessing coupled with the offerings bring to mind an earlier critical episode  in the history of humankind, as presented by the Bible.

Both Kayin and Hevel bring offerings to God. God looks favourably/pays heed to the offering of Hevel but not to that of Kayin. God addresses the greatly distressed Kayin:

Why has your face fallen, if you do well, there is שאת/uplift

Suffering rejection, Kayin does not experience restoration in the eyes of God and instead he kills his favoured brother and is cursed by God to no longer be a productive farmer but to ceaselessly wander the earth. We then here the anguished cry of Kayin:

ויאמר קין אל יהוה גדול עוני מנשוא

The root letters נשא here can either mean to bear or to forgive. Kayin can be saying to God: “My punishment/ sin is greater than I can bear” or he can be asking God: “Is my sin too great to forgive?”.

Perhaps, Kayin is asking of God if his sin is too great to forgive in the sense that God himself should bear his sin which was a result of the unexplained rejection of his offering and not being granted divine favour.

It might be in this light that we can understand that the dedication of the Mishkan, in which God’s presence resides and countenance shines upon His people, culminates with a litany of verses in which all the נשיאים/Nesi’im, as representatives of their respective tribes, bring the identical offering. None is to be given greater weight than the other. Upon all will God’s favour be bestowed, for all are equal before God.