G‑d informs Moses of the Tabernacle duties of the Levite families of Gershon and Merari. When the Jewish people journeyed, the Gershon family transported the Tabernacle tapestries, veils and coverings, while the Merari family carried its structural components, such as the beams, boards and pillars. A final count is given of the Levite Kehot family — those between the ages of thirty and fifty, as per G‑d‘s command mentioned towards the end of last week’s reading: 2,750.

The total for the Gershon family: 2,630. The Merari family: 3,200. Thus the grand total of Levites eligible to transport the Tabernacle and its vessels: 8,580.

Now that G‑d’s presence graces the Tabernacle, G‑d instructs the Jewish people to banish certain ritually impure individuals from their encampments. Most of them were only barred from entering the Tabernacle area and its immediate environs. Only one who suffered from tzara’at (“leprosy”) was sent out of the general encampment. This section then discusses the restitution and Temple sacrifice required of one who robs his fellow and then falsely swears to maintain his innocence. If one robs a convert who then dies without leaving any heirs, the restitution is made to a priest. Also included in this section is the mitzvah to verbally confess one’s sins, and a person’s right to select a priest of his liking to whom to give the various required priestly gifts.

This rather lengthy section contains three concepts: 1) The ceremony for the sotah, a suspected adulteress who was witnessed going into seclusion with another man—despite being warned not to associate with that individual. The woman is brought to the Temple. This section of the Torah is written on parchment and then soaked in water until the ink dissolves. The woman drinks the water. If she indeed willingly committed adultery, her belly miraculously swells and she dies a gruesome death. If she is unharmed by the waters, she is cleared of any suspicion. 2) The laws of the individual who vows to be a Nazirite. Such a person must abstain from wine and grape products, allow his/her hair to grow, and may not come in contact with a human corpse. At the conclusion of the term of the vow, the Nazirite brings certain offerings in the Temple. 3) The priestly blessings.

On the day when the Tabernacle was inaugurated, the tribal leaders wished to bring inauguration gifts. Collectively they brought six covered wagons and twelve oxen to assist in transporting the Tabernacle when the Jews travelled. In addition, as representative of their respective tribes, they wished to offer individual gifts and offering. G‑d instructed Moses to accept these gifts, and that on each the following twelve days one of the leaders should bring his individual gifts. Although each leader brought identical gifts, the Torah describes each one individually.

This section continues the descriptions of the tribal leaders’ gifts.

The gifts of all the leaders are added up and the totals given. The last verse describes how G‑d would talk to Moses, His voice emanating from between the two Cherubs atop the Holy Ark.


Six weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrived in the Sinai Desert and encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses ascended the mountain where G‑d gave him a message to transmit to the people. Included in this message was G‑d‘s designation of the Israelites as “His treasure out of all peoples” and a “kingdom of princes and a holy nation.”

Moses conveyed to the people G‑d’s words, who, in turn, accepted upon themselves to do all that G‑d commands of them. G‑d then instructed Moses to have the Israelites prepare themselves, because in three days’ time He would reveal Himself atop the mountain to the entire nation. The Israelites were commanded to sanctify themselves and were warned not to approach the mountain until after the divine revelation.

On the morning of the third day, thunder, lightning, a thick cloud and the piercing sound of a shofar emanated from the mountaintop. Mt. Sinai was smoking and trembling, while the sound of the shofar grew steadily louder. Moses escorted the shuddering and frightened nation to the mountain, and settled them at its base.

(During the course of the fourth section the congregation rises to their feet and remains standing while the reader reads the Ten Commandments.)

G‑d descended upon the mountain, and summoned Moses to its summit. G‑d instructed Moses to again warn the Israelites about the tragic end that awaited anyone who approaches the mountain itself. Only Moses and his brother Aaron were allowed on the mountain during this time. G‑d then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. They are: 1) Belief in G‑d. 2) Not to worship idols. 3) Not to take G‑d’s name in vain. 4) To keep the Shabbat. 5) To honor parents. 6) Not to murder, 7) commit adultery, 8) steal, 9) bear false witness or 10) covet another’s property.

The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome “light and sound” show. They turned to Moses and asked that from thereon he serve as an intermediary between them and G‑d—Moses should hear G‑d’s word and transmit it to the people. Moses agreed. The reading concludes with a prohibition against creating idolatrous graven images – considering that no image was seen when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai – and the commandment to erect a sacrificial altar. The altar stones should not be hewn with iron implements, nor should there be steps leading to the top of the altar.

The Maftir reading (from Numbers 28) details the various sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple on the holiday of Shavuot, along with the accompanying wine libations, oil and meal offerings.


All male firstborn of kosher cattle must be consecrated and given to the Kohen to eat. If the animal is unblemished it is first offered as a sacrifice in the Temple. If it is blemished, then it is also given to the Kohen, but he eats it without sacrificing it in the Temple.

We read about the holiday of Passover. We must ensure that the holiday always falls during springtime, and we must offer the Paschal Lamb on the proper day. We are commanded to eat matzah, and not leaven, for seven days.

The prohibition against leaven extends to ownership too—it is forbidden to possess anything leavened for the duration of the holiday. We may not offer the Paschal Lamb in any location other than “where G‑d chooses to dwell His Name” (i.e. the Holy Temple).

We now shift our attention to the holiday of Shavuot, “Weeks”; so called because it is celebrated seven weeks after the first harvesting of grain. We are enjoined to rejoice on this festival along with “your son, your daughter, your manservant and maidservant; the Levite who is within your cities, and the stranger, the orphan, and the widow…”

The final festival is the seven-day holiday of Sukkot, celebrated in the autumn, while we gather in the harvests from the fields. During this holiday we are commanded to be “only happy,” thankful to G‑d for all His beneficence. The reading concludes with the mitzvah for every male to make a pilgrimage to the Temple thrice yearly, in honour of these three holidays. And no one shall appear before G‑d empty-handed—everyone is required to bring sacrifices according to his means.

Maftir: The Maftir reading (from Numbers 28) details the various sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple on the holiday of Shavuot, along with the accompanying wine libations, oil and meal offerings.

Note: A longer reading is read if the second day of Shavuot falls on Shabbat, as the reading is then divided into seven aliyot (sections) instead of five. In such an instance, the reading begins from Deuteronomy 14:22, and the following two sections are added before continuing on to the day’s regular reading:

After giving a tenth of one’s crops to the Levite, a tenth of the remainder – the “Second Tithe” – is taken and eaten within the confines of Jerusalem. Provision is made for people who live far away from Jerusalem for whom it would be unfeasible to transport so much produce. Instead they may exchange the produce for money which is then taken to Jerusalem and spent on food. There is a three-year tithing cycle. After the conclusion of each cycle, we are commanded to purge our homes of any overdue tithes, give them to their intended recipients, and recite a brief prayer.

Moses commands the Israelites to designate every seventh year as a Shmitah (Sabbatical) Year. During this year, creditors must forgive outstanding loans. The section then discusses the obligation to give charity to the poor with a happy heart, and to lend them money if necessary, even if the Shmitah Year is looming. A Jewish slave must be freed after six years of service and must be given generous severance gifts as he departs.