The Torah portion, Naso, refers extensively to laws regarding the unfaithful wife. It is hard to say anything positive about this law, and I'm not motivated to try to do so. I want to focus my critical reading of this law on one detail that may, at first read, look marginal: the part in the ceremony when "the priest shall bare the woman’s head "(Num. 5:18).
It's hard to imagine a writer who would
The poet Yehuda Amichai writes: I don’t want an invisible god... I want a god who is seen... , so I can lead him around and tell him what he doesn’t see… ... In this week’s portion, Ki Tisa, we reconnect with this unfinished storyline at the beginning of Exodus 32. While Moses tarries atop Mount Sinai, the people down below are losing their patience:
The divisive episode of the Golden Calf that erupts midway through Parashah Ki Tisa has God steamed! As Rabbi Greenvald illustrates above, a plurality of perspectives and confused motivations surround the construction of the Golden Calf. Common to each interpretation cited seems to be a misunderstanding of the ways in which the other, human or divine, needs to be acknowledged in order to trust in the covenantal relationship.
As we come towards the end of the Book of Numbers, Moses is constantly reminded that he will not be the one to lead his people into the Promised Land – along with the vast majority of the Israelites who left Egypt. In Parashat Pinchas, we find the second census of the people by the Jordan River before their crossing; those named in the first, at the beginning of the book, have almost all died in the wilderness. Joshua, one of two sole survivors, will be the one who leads them forward.
I offer this word of Torah in honor and memory of my teacher, Rabbi Dr. Aaron David Panken.... In the Talmud we read, “Know before whom you stand.” Standing before God and standing up as a leader call us to take risks. Parashat Pinchas provides us with the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, who also “stand” (ta-amodna) up....
Jews are not ascetics – or at least, so we tend to think.... Parashat Naso gives us laws that lead us to focus on priestly rules and the purity of the Israelite camp. The adjacent appearance of laws on the sotah (adulteress) and the Nazirite invite us to consider the relationship between these two subjects.
These words, ascribed to King David, reflect humanity's aspiration for holiness — k’dushah.
When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and stars that You set in place,
what is man that You have been mindful of him,
mortal man that You have taken note of him,
that You have made him little less than divine,
and adorned him with glory and majesty. (Psalm 8:4-6 )
The Book of Numbers, B’midbar, seems to begin with great promise, evoking universalism, deep spirituality, and the openness of the wilderness. Then, just as quickly it contains that openness with God’s command to take a census, thereby numbering and organizing the people.
As Rabbi Grushcow points out in her commentary on B’midbar, in a place of wilderness, of chaos, and despite their exclusionary nature, the census of the Israelites and the camp’s organization provide order and containment that parallel God’s boundary setting in Genesis 1.
In Ki Tisa, Moses, begs God to let him understand the Divine. And yet, we see Moses as having more access to God than any other man. If Moses cannot comprehend God, how can we hope to understand God’s ways?
In Ki Tisa, when God says to Moses, Hinei makom Iti, "Here is a place with me," God may have been pointing Moses to the perfect spot in the cleft in the rock. For the rest of us, spread across the earth, who might wish for a place by God, Ki Tisa directs us, as well. For us, Shabbat can be this place.
In Parashat Pinchas, we learn the intriguing fact that “the sons of Korach did not die.” This conflicts with an account about Korach in an earlier chapter, which states that the ground opened up and swallowed him, his household and his followers. What does this discrepancy mean?
The fact we are told in Parashat Pinchas that Korach’s family does not die tells us that we always have the opportunity to perform t’shuvah as described in Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 17b.
In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, YHVH reminds Moses, “Speak to the Israelites: When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with the Eternal, and they realize their guilt, they shall confess the wrong that they have done. They shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to the one who was wronged.” (Numbers 5:6-7). The instruction to admit wrongdoing and make restitution applies to those we like and those we don't like.
Just as we are guided to look inward at this commandment to acknowledge and make restitution to someone we have wronged, so we should look inward with every commandment in the Torah. Every directive in the Torah may be thought of in the first person — as if it were written for us. Just as at the Passover seder we recite the words, “It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt,” so, too, can each commandment be read as it were directed to each one of us individually.
B’midbar opens with a commandment to take a census. It appears straightforward: as our ancestors traveled towards the Promised Land, they would have military encounters. Moses needed to know the cold, hard numbers of who was eligible to serve in the defense forces. The text goes into great detail on how to count the men who could serve.
In Parashat B’midbar Moses is instructed to count the whole Israelite people, but just the men of fighting age, and not those from the tribe of Levi. While we may want to explain that away by reminding ourselves that the count was just for military purposes, let us instead consider what it might have been like for those who weren’t counted.