Freedom from Fear
By Michael Chessen
This week's reading of Naso continues the process of tribal accounting and
societal organization for the service of God which began in the portion of
Bemidbar. The lengthy portion of Naso, however, (the longest single reading of
the Torah) contains two seemingly esoteric and apparently unrelated sub-topics
sandwiched into the middle of the more general concerns of the desert society.
These sub-topics are the suspected adulteress and the nazirite.
The subject of the suspected adulteress is very complex and in need of
much commentary and rabbinical guidance to fully understand all of its
intricate technical nuances and spiritual symbolism. However, what is very
clear is the Torah's emphasis on the preeminent importance of sexual morality
as the glue which binds together a society which aspires to holiness.
Accordingly, not only are sexual offenses treated with great severity in the
Torah, but great care is also taken to ensure that individuals remain above any
possible suspicion of any kind of a transgression in this area.
Whereas the Torah is very unequivocal in equating rape with murder
(Deuteronomy 22:26), a married woman who willingly commits adultery is
guilty of a capital offense which is linguistically and homiletically
linked with the transgression of misappropriating sacred Temple vessels.
The Torah uses the same term, me'ila, both for a woman being unfaithful to her
husband and for an individual defiling a sacred vessel for the Temple by use
for any mundane purpose. We must bear in mind, however, that adultery is an
offense which also carries severely damaging human costs. But this week's
reading of Naso may be suggesting that the ostensible victim of an adulteress,
namely the woman's husband, may actually bear a degree of responsibility for
his wife's actions, especially if they are only suspected as such.
The subject of the nazirite immediately follows discussion of the
suspected adulteress. Whereas the sages seem to be in disagreement as to
whether an individual's taking on the strict life-style limitations of the
nazirite is a positive phenomenon or not, Professor Nechama Libovitch discerns
a definite function of atonement in an individual's assuming these highly
restrictive ascetic oaths. The above mentioned juxtaposition of subjects quite
compellingly suggests that an extreme act of atonement may be required of a man
who has behaved toward his wife in a manner that would lead him to suspect her
of elsewhere seeking the warmth and compassion which he himself may have denied
After dealing with these extremities of suspicion and atonement, the
Torah seeks to strengthen us through the comfort of the "priestly
blessing"(Numbers 6: 24-26) with which Jewish parents bless their children at
the onset of every Sabbath and holiday. This blessing seeks to liberate and
elevate us not only from want, but from the spiritual shackles of fear as well.
This will lead us to be receptive of God's presence and enable us to ultimately
live genuinely in peace.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!