Welcome to the longest parsha of the Torah! (Read on to find out why it’s so long!)
But first... remember in parshas Tazria and Metzora, when we read about tzara’as (צָרָעַת), a reminder Hashem would send when bnei Yisrael were doing something wrong? Now, we hear about tzara’as again: Hashem finishes explaining how bnei Yisrael should arrange themselves around the Mishkan, and reminds Moshe that a person with tzara’as can’t come inside until they’re healed.
There were other ways people behaved badly.
Sometimes, a man might suspect his wife had told another man she would marry him. Jealousy can ruin a marriage and make many people unhappy, so the husband could bring his wife to the kohein, who asked her to drink a bitter liquid. If she had behaved badly, she would die [parents: I have deliberately left out the actual means of her death here – too grisly for littles, but by all means include it if your kids are interested and it’s appropriate – just leave out the soda pop/”sotah pop” jokes]. But if she had been loyal, not only was her husband’s jealousy gone, they would have a new baby and a stronger family.
Remember: this is something that happened only in those days!
Many amazing things happened in those times... someday, we’ll understand them all better.
Though people could behave badly, some wanted to be extra-good!
This kind of person was called a nazir (נָזִיר), a man or a woman who promised any amount of time – a month or a year or fifteen years... or forever – to be extra holy. (Do you remember what “holy” means? Special to Hashem!) A nazir had many rules: they couldn’t eat anything made of grapes: raisins, grape juice, wine or vinegar. They couldn’t cut their hair or go near dead people. When the time was up, they’d bring a korban to show they were ready for ordinary life again.
Do you know what the Haftorah is?
Many years ago, cruel leaders forbid us to learn Torah. So rabbis found other readings that were NOT from the Torah – stories and lessons from our nevi’im. These were called “haftorahs” – it sounds like “Torah,” but just means “extra” parshas. The haftorah always reminds us of the real Torah parsha! These days, we still learn them, and this week’s haftorah tells about Shimshon HaGibor, who was born a nazir. Keeping nazir-rules, like not cutting hair, made him strong (for a while!).
After all these rules, it was time for a party!
At last, the Mishkan was assembled and the kohanim were almost ready to start working in it. But what’s a party without gifts? Imagine it’s your birthday and your twelve best friends show up... and they all bring you the SAME present. How would you feel? Probably disappointed. Even if it’s something great, you probably don’t need twelve of anything exactly the same.
And what about Hashem, who doesn’t need presents at all?
Hashem asks the nesi’im, the leaders of the shevatim, to bring gifts for the Mishkan, and each nasi brings the same things: some silver bowls, flour for a korban minchah, ketores (incense burned for its smell), and several animals. Hashem also asked the nesi’im to come one each day for twelve days. That’s one reason this parsha is so long: it lists the same gifts over and over, twelve days in a row!
This is a very strange way to bring gifts to Hashem.
Back in parshas Vayakhel, when bnei Yisrael were giving gifts to help build the Mishkan, Hashem wanted them to come all at once, and bring whatever different things they wanted to give: gold, wood, copper, animal skins. (Remember? They brought too much, and Moshe had to cry out, “Stop!”) But now, they have to wait their turn...and they’re all bringing the same stuff.
Were the gifts really all the same???
Imagine you have money in your wallet or a piggy bank; maybe $7. Clarence has $20 saved up, and he wants to go buy ice cream for $5. If Clarence spends $5, he’ll still have $15 – lots of money! But if you spend $5, you won’t have much left. It’s the same $5, but it feels harder for you to spend it! It’s the same with the nesi’im. Some of the gifts were easy for some of them; others were harder. Each gift felt different for each and every nassi. (Some people also think they had different ideas in mind.)
So what actually happened in the Mishkan? We’ll find out next week!