TO LIFT UP
Here is the message I sent to my congregation this week. May you and your family have a restful, joyous Shabbat, Rabbi Michael Gold
audio recording of weekly message
“Take a census of the Gershonites also, by their ancestral house and by their clans.” (Numbers 4:22)
I admit that I am a fan of the HBO comedian and commentator Bill Maher. Yes, he can be crude, and I disagree with his attacks on religion. (Still, as a religious Jew, I do believe that sometimes religion deserves attacks.) But what I like about Maher is how, as a liberal, he is willing to challenge the extreme left. He has no tolerance for the wokeness, cancel culture, judgmental attitude of those on the extreme left. Often such leftist pronouncements degenerate into antisemitism. Why else would people carrying a Jewish star be forbidden from marching in a gay-lesbian parade? The organizers of the parade claim Jewish stars make people on the left uncomfortable.
I listened to a monologue from Maher about Queen Elizabeth, who just celebrated her Platinum Jubilee. (A Jubilee is supposed to be 50 years, so a 70-year Platinum Jubilee is an exceptional occasion.) Maher claimed that if the left was true to its own values, it ought to reject the idea of the monarchy altogether. The left ought to teach that every human being is equal by the dignity of their birth. No human being should ever be bowing, or curtsying, to another human being based on higher birth. (Remember in the book of Esther, Mordecai refusing to bow to Haman.). And Maher takes particular umbrage to the use of the term “your highness” in referring to the royal family. Nobody should ever be considered higher than anybody else.
I am less bothered by the British royalty than Maher. I find it mildly entertaining. But as an American, living in a country that fought a revolutionary war against King George, I do not understand our fascination with Queen Elizabeth and her often dysfunctional family. And whenever I see Prince Charles, Elton John’s song from The Lion King pops into my mind, “I just can’t wait to be king.”
Nonetheless, I am intrigued by Maher’s remarks about the phrase “your highness.” This week’s portion is called Naso, which refers to taking a count of the tribe of Levi. But the Hebrew word Naso really means “to lift up.” A closer translation to the original Hebrew would be “lift up the tribe of the Gerhsonites, by their ancestral houses and their clans.” It raises the question, if all people are equal, who do we lift up? Who should our highness refer to?
There is a time in Judaism when we do use the Hebrew term naso to refer to lifting people up. The second part of the Jewish wedding ceremony is called nisuim from the same Hebrew root. This is the part where the seven blessings are chanted, linking the bride and groom to every other bride and groom in history. We chant the words, “Soon may we hear in the cities of Judah and the walls of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.” The wedding ceremony is a lifting up.
Who is lifting whom? Perhaps the bride and the groom are lifting each other up, to a higher holier state. Or perhaps the community is lifting them up together. Maybe that is the symbolism behind the almost universal Jewish custom of dancing with the bride and groom up on chairs. This is a moment of lifting up. Of course, every bride is a queen on her special day; she is the one who deserves to be called “your highness.”
I write this not to complain about the monarchy. May the queen continue to live and be well, until 120 as we say in Jewish tradition. But Hebrew words have hidden meanings. Who ought we be lifting up? And who deserves to be lifted up? That is the true meaning of naso People are uplifted not by an accident of birth, but because we as a community have chosen to lift them up.
Recordings of my Rap with the Rabbi
A Rabbi Encounters the Universe
Here is a recording of my first lecture Creation: Is the Beginning of Genesis True? Creation
Here is a recording of my second lecture Soul: Where did it come from and where is it going? soul
Here is a recording of my third lecture Evil: Why did God create an imperfect world? Evil
Here is a recording of my fourth lecture Pandemic: Is God trying to tell us something? pandemic
Here is a copy of my fifth lecture Humanity: Is Darwin correct that we are merely animals? humanity
Here is a copy of my sixth lecture Nature: If the Pagans worshipped her, why don’t we? nature
Here is a copy of my seventh lecture God: What do I mean by God? God
Here is a copy of my eighth lecture Mind: Is my mind my brain or something more? mind