Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Naso

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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 her.

     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!

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