Parshat Naso 2018
After all the counting and making order last week, we come to other more personal matters, and while they are interesting, we have to ask – why here? Why not in Vayikra?
Our first big story is that of the sotah, the deviant woman. There is no proof, there are no witnesses, but her husband suspects that she slept with another man and was defiled by him. Were there proof, she would be stoned. Instead, she undergoes a draconian procedure that would have #MeToo on the barricades.
Imagine the scene. A guy comes home after a hard day of sifting sand in the desert and sees his wife mooning over a cup of coffee. “You’re having an affair!” he accuses her. “I am not,” she says. “We’ll see about that!” he mutters under his breath. And off he goes to the cohen to lodge a complaint.
The cohen says, OK, bring on the alleged adulteress. It’s obvious there’s no proof – if there were, she would be on the rock-slinging range. He mixes together bitter water and dirt from the sanctuary floor. He gives it to her to drink and says: If you have sinned and seed from another has taken root, your womb will fall and you will be accursed forever. If you haven’t, the seed will take root. And she drinks.
At the end of the day, whether she is guilty and her insides fall out or if she is innocent and the whole rigmarole was in the husband’s head, in either case he goes home blameless. The final line is, “and the woman will bear her sin.” Even if she was innocent? Does anyone see bias here?
If the purpose of this whole ceremony, as some rabbis claim, was to bring ‘shlom bayit’ – peace at home, it misses the mark. He doesn’t trust her, she loathes him for having shamed her unnecessarily. Now go live happily ever after.
And even if the purpose is to cleanse the people, to ensure that they stay pure, it misses the mark, from our anachronistic point of view, of course.
We’re not finished. The following chapter is devoted to the nazirite. Not the Christian monks who hie themselves to a monastery but rather individuals who take a vow to forgo three things: wine and anything connected to grapes, cutting their hair, and coming in contact with a dead body, even close family members.
But only for the period of the vow. Not as a way of life. It seems to be a form of contrition, of penance, of trying to purge one’s body or soul of something unhealthy.
I’d like to think that this nazirite was the man who unjustly accused his wife of adultery and realized what a fool he had been. But realistically, how often does an insanely jealous or totally stupid person come to what we would consider “full senses”?
And so we have these rules for the nazirite who is atoning for whatever. At the end of the nazirite period, he brings a sin offering and returns to the real world. Why a sin offering? Either because he sinned beforehand or because taking yourself outside of the everyday world is viewed as the wrong way to live as a Jews.
In both the deviant wife and the nazirite chapters we have people who are unhappy, people who have or may have sinned, people who seek to be purged internally.
Note that the deviant wife is not sent OUT of the camp, as is the case with ritually impure individuals but rather INTO the sanctuary. Is it because there is a doubt about her impurity? Or because it is something for everyone to see and learn from? Note how intertwined are the holy and the secular. Being holy and walking the straight and narrow is not a matter of locking ourselves up in a yeshiva all day and night. It is not separating men and women on the buses, the streets, the airplanes and the lecture halls. It is living in society and bringing the good values to bear on our everyday humdrum lives.
It’s also remembering the many warnings in the Torah that all of mankind is holy and that we have to respect one another. Breaking the windows of this shul a few weeks ago – that’s a hilul – it’s a desecration. Of course, it may simply have been vandals, drunkards, or it could have been our co-religionists who feel that our view of Yahadut is as dangerous and as hate-worthy as Christianity and Islam.
Perhaps the chapter about the sotah, the deviant wife, is actually a very veiled criticism of stupid people who allow their emotions to outrun their reason and to react to every bellyache by hitting out at others. But then – why are they exonerated in the end?
Maybe the nazirite is the archetypical Alcoholics Anonymous. In order to overcome an addiction, you have to go through the steps. You have to recognize that it’s a problem, remove yourself away from the source and heal yourself. The main difference between the two approaches is that AA believes you will always have the problem and the nazirite approach seems to indicate that you can overcome it.
All of this can fit in with the sanctuary because it forms part of the continuum running from secular to holy and from impure to pure. By tagging these two chapters with the priestly blessing that we say in the Amida, the parsha seems to give us a happily ever after ending, a “problem solved, now let’s get on with the celebrations” approach.
We shouldn’t criticize such an ending. In coming weeks we will enter the dark world of spies and Korach, and we will long for the days of wine and roses that we find here. Be grateful for what we have now. That’s good advice at all times.