HASHEM spoke to Moshe and Aaron saying: Make a count (Nasso es Rosh) of the sons of Kohas from among the children of Levi by their families, according to their fathers’ houses. (Bamidbar 4:1-2)
It’s truly amazing how much is lost in translation. That is far from what is being asked of Moshe and Aaron here. There is nothing more dehumanizing than assigning a number to a person.
The word NASSO is comprised of a two-letter root that is rife throughout the Parsha: SIN and ALEF. Where else do we find it and what does it mean in those places? The Leviim who were to be counted were charged with certain tasks, “MASA”, with that SIN-ALEF root. They were to NOSEH- carry the Aron HaKodesh. The Talmud tells us, “NOSEH ARON NOSAV” – “The Aron carried those who carried it”. SIN-ALEF means to carry a burden, to lift up.
The Cohanim bless the Jewish people with the words, “Yisa (SIN_ALEF) HASHEM PANAV ELECHA” – HASHEM should lift His face upon you…and give you peace.” The word for the princes of the Jewish People who each brought their inaugural gifts to HASHEM is spelled NUN-SIN-ALEF-YUD. These are the leaders with a SIN-ALEF again. A NASI is also a cloud. So, what’s the common denominator and what does it tell us about the real task of NASSO ES ROSH – counting.
Years ago, I got a call from a prominent Rav in Lakewood. My wife and I had been guests in the community many times where we had some friends and relatives, who we visited every summer. I would take the opportunity to give an afternoon lady’s Shiur. This time the Rabbi had a tall order for me. He said that on Shabbos afternoon there would be a big Kiddush to honor a group of congregants who were finishing SHAS – the entire Talmud, on a schedule different from the Daf HaYomi calendar. He wanted me to address the congregation before Musaf on Shabbos morning. I can’t believe I agreed to do it, but I did. Now my mind was racing one thousand miles an hour. What could I possibly say? This was Lakewood. These men had completed SHAS. I felt I was way over my head. An idea woke up inside and this is basically what I shared.
One of the most unusual first encounters ever was between Reb Yochanan and Reish Lakish. Reb Yochanan was an unusually beautiful man and he was bathing in a river. Reish Lakish was a notorious bandit and seeing the Rabbi was a vulnerable target, he leapt across the river to attack his prey. Upon seeing this this athletic feat in process Reb Yochanan declared, “CHEILCHA L’ORAISA” – Your power, your prowess, your talent is for Torah”. I can still recall my Rebbe marveling at what he didn’t say. “Thief! Police! Help!” He saw the raw potential of a future Torah star. Reish Lakish retorted to Reb Yochanan that his beauty is wasted on a man. Reb Yochanan replied “If you think I am beautiful, you should see my sister. If you dedicate your might to Torah, I will give her to you as a wife.” Reish Lakish committed himself on the spot. He married Reb Yochanan’s sister, became a great Talmud scholar, and a life-long study partner with Reish Lakish.
Then I fast forwarded to a barber shop in Spring Valley where I was waiting my turn for a haircut. Into the barbershop strode an elderly man, Rabbi Aronson. He was then in his mid- 90’s. I had heard that he had learned in Slobodka where giants like Reb Aaron Kotler, Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky, Reb Yitzchok Hutner, Reb Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman, Reb Dovid Leibowitz and more were raised by the Alter from Slobodka, Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel.
I engaged him briefly in conversation. I asked him, “Was Rabbi Aronson in Slobodka?”. He affirmed, “Yes!” I asked him, “Did Rabbi Aronson see the Alter?” He Nodded and confirmed, “Of course!” I asked him if he was there when Reb Aaron Kotler and Reb Yaakov Kaminetzky were there and he said, “I was there the day they arrived”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I said to him, “There must have been a big celebration! Two great people like that arriving!” He looked at me like I fell from outer space.” “Celebration? They were Bochurim! Nobody saw anything!” He said emphatically. Then he corrected himself, “The Alter, he saw something!”
NASSO means to lift up, carry, demonstrate to a person what their loftiest mission in this world is, and not just to count them but to empower them and show how much they count.