Have you ever noted the following from Martin Buber's Ten Rungs, which is included among the meditations at the beginning of Gates of Prayer?
To love God truly, one must first love people. And if anyone tells you that he loves God and does not love his fellow humans, you will know that he is lying.
Ten Rungs: Hasidic Sayings , p. 82; quoted in Gates of Prayer, p. 9
This week's parashah, Naso, makes the same point. Naso is rich in texture and variety. It starts with a continuation of the enumeration of the Levites and their duties (Numbers 4:21-49) which began in last week's parashah, Bemidbar. Naso then discusses specific cases of ritual impurity (5:1-4) and the punishment for suspected marital infidelity. (5:11-31) Next God speaks about the nazirite, i.e., one who has undertaken a special vow of piety, abstinence, and sanctity. (6:1-21) Immediately thereafter we are introduced to the Priestly Benediction or Three-Fold Blessing. (6:22-27) Naso concludes with an account of the completion of the construction of the Tabernacle and the accompanying dedicatory offerings. (7:1-89)
At the beginning of the parashah, the text states: "The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man [limeol ma'al ba'Adonai] thus breaking faith with the Eternal, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged." (Numbers 5:5-7)
In one form or another, this phrase limeol ma'al ba-Adonai (here translated "breaking faith with the Eternal") recurs throughout the Tanach/Bible. These Hebrew words and their context in Naso echo the following passage in Leviticus: "The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: When a person sins [uma'alah ma'al ba'Adonai] and commits a trespass against the Eternal by dealing deceitfully with his fellow...when one has thus sinned and, realizing his guilt, would restore that which he got...he shall repay the principal amount and add a fifth part to it. He shall pay it to its owner when he realizes his guilt." (Leviticus 5:20-24)
The Torah is unequivocal: To wrong another person is also to wrong God. When one individual abuses, cheats, or defrauds another, the offender must make restitution to the person who was offended and must also make amends to the Holy One (in both above quoted biblical cases, by bringing a sacrifice). Note that in parashat Naso, there is the added element of confession-the acknowledgement of the offense and of responsibility for it.
Our sages also recognized the principle that a wrong done to another human being is a wrong against the Eternal. The rabbis went further by insisting that to wrong a person is even worse than to sin solely against God. For example in the midrash on Naso (Numbers Rabbah 8:4), we read, "One sins more gravely against an ordinary human being than against the Most High."
Simply stated, and in positive terms, Judaism teaches that to honor other human beings is to honor the Holy One. Or, as Martin Buber has reminded us, "To love God truly, one must first love people."
For further consideration:
- How do we dishonor God when we wrong another person?
- How do Numbers 5:5-8 and Leviticus 5:20-26 remind us of the High Holy Days? What aspects of the Days of Awe should we incorporate into our everyday lives?
- Is there any way in which we can honor God without honoring our fellow humans?
- What are the best ways in which we can honor other people (and God)?
For further reading:
The Haggadah to parashat Vayikra on page 779 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary (UAHC Press).