14 June 2024
Week of 09-15 June 2024
Torah portion: Numbers 4:21-7:89 Haftarah: Judg. 13:2-25
Theme: “Elevate”

Known as the longest single portion in the Torah, Parashat Naso (“to lift up”) includes seemingly unrelated themes. First, is the account of Levitical families of Gershon and Merari detailing their tasks in carrying parts of the Tabernacle when the Israelites journeyed (4:23-30) and ends with inexplicable repetitious identical listing of gifts brought by the princes of each tribe at the dedication of the Tabernacle (7:1-89). After the brief laws about removing an unclean person from the camp and about restitution, comes the puzzling ordeal of the woman suspected by her husband of adultery (5:11-31), and the rules for the Nazir, a person who takes on himself or herself special holiness restrictions to be a nazarite (6:1-21), followed by the oldest prayer, the Priestly Benediction (6:22-27).

In one of his lectures on “sacred interpretation”, I remember distinctly what Jack Driscoll said that an “irritation” created by a text warrants attention and careful reflection!

Considered a “trial by ordeal”, the description of the ritual inflicted upon an errant wife (whom rabbinic literature refers to as Sotah, from the root s-t-h, Hebrew tisteh, (“gone astray) elicited the question “Whom does the ritual protect, the suspicious husband or the accused wife?”. It is interesting to note that the more explicit term for adultery, naaf, is missing in this passage (Ezkenazi 822). While the text begins as if it is concerned with the subject of adultery, this act took place without the husband’s or anyone else’s awareness implied by the literal expressions: “it is hidden from the eyes of her husband”, “she concealed herself”; “there was no witness”; “she was not apprehended”. Why should the husband want to do anything if he does not know it? The subject of this section is not her adultery (which may or may not have occurred, since there is no actual evidence) but rather his jealousy. (Goldstein 264). It would seem that the Sages understood the ordeal of the Sotah less as a way of ferreting out adulteress and more as way of “proving” to the husband that his suspicions were groundless (Etz Hayim 796).

Even more perplexing is the shift from the enigmatic ritual to the laws of the nazir, (“to dedicate” or “set aside”) a woman or a man who chooses to distinguish herself or himself by taking special holiness restrictions, among them the renunciation of wine and grape products, of haircuts, and of defilement by contact with a dead body. This is a way, perhaps, of avoiding damaging resentments that can occur when people find themselves excluded by birth from certain forms of status within the community. It opens up the possibility of special sanctity for those who do not belong to the clans with priestly status, emphasizing the equal dignity of everyone.

Both the sotah and nazir are marginal, set apart from the community-at-large. The narratives and the laws remind that each person has innate value, and is of equal worth in the eyes of God. To acknowledge and recognize this will ultimately bring peace, the kind of peace that Shalom brings in the Benediction.

For Reflection and Discussion: Do you agree with the principle of “peace at all cost”? Why?

Bibliography: Eskenazi, (ed), The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York, 2008), Goldstein, (ed), The Women’s Torah Commentary (Woodstock, Vermont, 2006) Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary (The Jewish Publication Society, 1985)

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Ruby A. Simon, MD., Philippines, Bat kol Alumna 2007, 2009

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