Naso 5782 – The Importance of a Having a Name and of Being Named

By: Dr. Joel Roffman

At my dear mother’s funeral in 2002, I read part of a letter to her from the corporate offices of Walgreen’s. “Dear Mrs. Tobias (She had remarried for a time, several years after my father died), Thank you for your note to us about Ernie Gibson.” Ernie Gibson was the pharmacist at the Walgreens on Northwest Highway. He had been kind to my mother in the course of business, and she followed that up with a letter to Walgreens’ corporate office. Who does that? Individual acts of kindness, apparently from both Ernie Gibson and from my mother.

And as another example, I still recall when, as a lowly college student who was a waiter in the Blue Hill Country club outside Boston, members Henry Stone and George Snyder took a moment now and then as I waited on their tables during the members’ dinners to ask me about my studies. Gratuitous shows of kindness. How special did that make me feel at the time? More than 50 years later, I still remember their names. I don’t remember the names of hardly any other members. A little bit of kindness can go a long way.

The title of today’s parashah is Naso, meaning to count. I’ve read, though, that the word actually means, “to lift up.” So why in the parashah are we lifting the heads, as it were, instead of simply counting? In the parashah, we read of how the leaders of 12 clans, in the final preparation for the sanctuary, each brought identical gifts. But unusually (to me at least), each of the chiefs of the 12 clans is named individually in the Torah. And even though they all brought identical gifts, each offering is named – one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a grain offering. It’s similar to, instead of simply thanking those who contributed to the service, Becca takes the time and effort to mention each name individually.

A total of 75 verses are spent in this way – an extraordinary amount of verbiage! The entire section describing the Ten Commandments takes only 14 verses, and the entire adventure of the crossing of the sea 31 verses. Why on earth does this section deserve so many verses by itself? What is the lesson here?

In the ancient world, what seemed to matter most was numbers, size and strength. Monuments, pyramids, the masses. In Judaism, we are taught exactly the opposite. the individual is of supreme importance because we each carry a spark of the Divine within us. In the 147th Psalm, we read, “And Gd reckoned the number of stars; to each Gd gave it a name.”  What we value we name. Gd gave even the stars unique names. When we are called by the Still, Small voice of Elijah, we are to answer, hineni, Here I am. Gd then meets us, one on one. Our significance cannot be measured by merely a census, a counting of numbers.

In today’s parashah, and every day, Gd not only counts us, but lifts our head. To me, this is an acknowledgement that we’re all the children of Gd, and so each of us is of infinite worth. A hassidic story tells of how we should each carry two messages at the same time. One is that we are but dust and ashes; the other is that it is for us that the world was created. We’re important. Infinitely important, at that.

Although I don’t recall the exact circumstances – I must have been very young, because my father died when I was only eight, I do recall him repeating the sign-off slogan of a local TV meteorologist. 1950s. Boston. Remember, he would tell me as a small child, it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. We are as important as we make other people feel. And that can be very important, indeed!