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Honor Humanity and Honor the Holy One

  • Honor Humanity and Honor the Holy One

    Naso, Numbers 4:21−7:89
D'var Torah By: 

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:

  1. How do we dishonor God when we wrong another person?
  2. 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?
  3. Is there any way in which we can honor God without honoring our fellow humans?
  4. 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).

What's Mine is Mine and What's Yours is Yours... and God as Our Partner
Davar Acher By: 
Lori Serbin Lasday

What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours is a fundamental belief in our society that helps keep the peace. Everyone has a designated share that increases or decreases according to his or her needs, wants, and actions. The status quo is disrupted when one person upsets the balance by taking something that belongs to someone else and claiming it as his or her own.

This week's Torah portion, Naso, focuses on such an action, referring to it as a "wrong toward a fellow man." (Numbers 5:6) Further explained in parashat Vayikra read some weeks ago, this "wrong" is defined as the act of stealing, robbing, or misappropriation-what's "yours" has now become "mine" through an act of deception or fraud. The text goes on to say that the act of wronging another man or woman "breaks faith with the Eternal." But does harming one's fellow man offend God?

When two people agree that one will lend something to the other, they are functioning outside the legal framework of a contract or witnesses. Yet this "gentleman's agreement" is governed by the same laws as the latter. In fact, our teachers believe that an even higher authority may govern it. According to the great sage and teacher Rabbi Akiva (c. 50-135, Eretz Yisrael), the witness in a gentleman's agreement is God, and by denying the pledge made in such an instance, the party at fault is denying the Presence and power of God. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, Germany) goes on to explain that God is the unseen witness to all human transactions and the guarantor that such transactions are conducted in an honest fashion. Do you think that people would act differently if they believed that God is an unseen witness to each of their personal interactions?

The text goes on to explain what one must do to atone for wronging another person and thus trespassing against God. To be "at-one" with his or her fellow man/woman and with God, a person who has stolen or lied must first confess the crime. This confession must be made directly to the person who has been wronged, not to a bystander or a neutral authority. The thief must face his accuser, admit to the specific wrong, and voice his sincere intent for repentance. Ramban (1194-1270, Spain) states that this particular text is the forerunner to Judaism's view of confession as an integral part of repentance. Would such crimes or deceptions happen less often if each offender knew that he would have to confess face-to-face and look into the eyes of his victim, where he would see the anguish or anger caused by his actions?

The second and third steps toward "at-one-ment" are concerned with the cost of stealing. Restitution should be made both to the person who was wronged and to God. Repayment of the stolen object to its owner is mandatory, and a set interest fee is to be paid. In addition, an offering or sacrifice should be made to God. Even though we are without a system of offerings or sacrifices today, a person should be charged to examine his or her misbehavior and repent appropriately. Today's secular justice system addresses this issue by requiring offenders to do public service as a repayment for their crimes to society. What "offering" do you think would be fitting for the crime of stealing?

By taking time to look deep into the text of this week's portion, we are challenged to examine our personal interactions with regard to ownership and trust. What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours may be true, but with God as our partner, what's ours is God's as well.

6/06/1998
Topics: 
Reference Materials: 

Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,043-1,075; Revised Edition, pp. 921-945;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 815-842