Weekly Reading Insights:
the Weekly Reading
To be read on Shabbat Naso (outside of Israel Bamidbar)
- 5 Sivan 5779 /June 8
Torah: Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftorah: Judges 13:2-25 (the birth of Shimshon, connecting
to the section about nazir)
Pirkei Avot: Chapter 6
Naso is the 2nd Reading out of 10 in Numbers and it
contains 8632 letters, in 2264 words, in 176 verses
Overview: Naso opens with tallying the three Levite
families and defining their specific services in the dismantling, carrying,
and assembly of the Tabernacle throughout the Jews' desert journeys. Next,
Jews with various types of impurities are forbidden to enter different sections
of the camp. Then, G-d commands the Jews about the restitution for sinning
against a fellow Jew. Also discussed is the command to bring 'trumah'-crop-gifts
to the priests. Next, the Torah speaks about the suspected adulteress, the
test of her fidelity, and the consequences of her guilt or innocence. The
parsha continues to discuss the vows, laws and scarifices of Nazirites. The
following verses are the priestly blessing to the Jews (which are recited
daily). The parsha concludes by listing the donations and sacrifices that
each tribal prince brought to the Tabernacle.
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent
(for a free weekly email subscription, click
This week's portion, Naso, describes the mitzvah of Sotah. A
sotah is a woman who is suspected of having intimate relations with someone
other than her husband. The Torah portion describes a situation where a husband
senses that something is wrong, has a strong feeling of jealousy that could
have come from ruach hakodesh (divine inspiration) and warns his wife
not to meet privately with a certain individual, as the Talmud (Sotah 5b) says,
"Do not conceal yourself with so and so." If she does not listen and
is found alone with this person she is called a sotah. She can admit
her wrong doing at any time and be divorced. If she does not admit, and the
suspicion persists, there are a number of steps that the Torah requires be taken
at this point that are described in detail (Bamidbar 5:15-31). In a very short
summary, these are the steps. The woman is brought by her husband to the priest.
A simple barley offering is brought for her, the priest then brings her closer
to G-d (closer to the Holy of Holies). He then puts water in a clay vessel and
puts in dust from the floor of the Tabernacle (called the "bitter waters").
He then moves her to a different place, and her hair, that was tied up, is loosened
and revealed. The priest holds the bitter waters of the curse and puts the barley
offering into her hand. The woman is then told that she is going to drink the
bitter waters. If she has not committed adultery, then the bitter waters will
not affect her. But if she did commit adultery, the bitter waters will affect
her fatally. The priest then describes what will happen if she is affected by
the curse from drinking the bitter waters, and the woman answers amen. The priest
then writes the curses on a piece of parchment and erases them with the bitter
waters. The woman then has to drink the bitter waters. The priest then brings
the barley offering on the altar. If she is guilty, the curse will take effect
and not only will she suffer and die, her paramour will also suffer and die.
If she is innocent, not only will nothing happen when she drinks the water,
she and her husband will be blessed in various ways. One blessing will be that
they will have children.
The Talmud (Sotah 28a) says that in some cases the husband can forgive his jealousy
and stop the process as though nothing had happened. But the Talmud Yerushalmi
(Sanhedrin 8:6) teaches that the process can only be stopped until the letters
of the curse written on the parchment have been erased. Once they are erased
the process must continue.
Today we have no Tabernacle or Temple and cannot fulfill the Torah's requirements
concerning a sotah. When the third Temple will be rebuilt, may it be speedily
in our days, we will all be on a higher spiritual level and there will no longer
be a need for the trial of the bitter waters for the sotah.
What can we learn from this now to help us and understand how to grow closer
Husbands and wives here below are compared to G-d and Knesset Yisroel, the collective
soul of the Jewish people, and are also called, Man (G-d) and Wife (the Jews).
Just as it is a commandment for a man to be jealous of his wife, so also G-d
is jealous of His people. "Do not have any other gods before Me" (Shemot
20:3) is a parallel prohibition to what we quoted above - "Do not conceal
yourself with so and so." Believing that we can hide ourselves from G-d,
who is everywhere, is the human characteristic of arrogance, about which the
Talmud (Sotah 5a) teaches, "I (G-d) and he (the arrogant person) cannot
dwell together." The trait of arrogance is similar to a wife hiding herself
with another man. Arrogance brings a person to a spiritual state of sotah.
Just as the law below in this world is that a husband can "forgive'"
his jealousy as long as the words on the parchment were not erased, G-d also,
so to speak, has a window of opportunity to forgive an arrogant person before
he becomes a spiritual sotah.
Erasing the scroll is a process of removing the letters from the parchment writing
surface. This shows that the letters and the parchment were never one unit.
If they were one entity, like letters engraved in stone, it would impossible
to separate them.
As long as the "scroll was not erased", which on a spiritual level
means that the Jew is learning Torah and doing the commandments in a way of
"engraved" - in such a powerful way that he and G-d's wisdom are united
- then it is inconceivable that the letters can be erased from him because he
and the Torah are one. Even if he had a 'fall' - a little bit of arrogance did
enter him - it will be ok, because divine forgiveness will come from on high
and nullify everything bad, because G-d is, at His core, The Forgiver.
However, if the "scroll was erased" - the Jew and the Torah had become
two separate entities because his arrogance and ego had permeated him so deeply
- then he cannot escape the judgement of being a sotah. He then has to
"follow the process". He brings a tenth portion of a barley offering.
Barley is animal fodder and a tenth portion symbolizes a very lowly level. An
arrogant person has to become conscious that he is the lowest of the low - poor
in perception and understanding. This poverty of consciousness is called ani
b'daat - like an animal that lacks consciousness. It is a spiritual death. Only
when he has eradicated the arrogance and feels himself as totally naught can
he begin his rebirth. How does he become reborn spiritually? By seeing Hashem
in everything that happens to him and in the world and by training himself to
say baruch Hashem - awareness of Hashem and gratitude to Hashem in everything.
(Adapted from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's talks - vol.14)
A woman once came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe seeking parenting advice. "Rebbe",
she said sadly, "I don't know how to handle my children. They don't listen
to me and say that they know better. I am so torn about disciplining them. I
feel so terrible when I punish them!"
The Rebbe responded kindly. "Think of it this way. As difficult as it is,
the act of disciplining your child now prevents them from twice as much pain
(Mendel Kalmenson. Seeds of Wisdom 2)
Shabbat Shalom, Shaul
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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading,
see the archive.
THE SAGES OF KABBALAH ON KabbalaOnline.org
Specifically, for an overview
of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists,
click to Naso
Reward of Innocence
From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
When we sin against G-d, we should not think that we are lost and cannot return
or that G-d has forsaken us. Rather, we must remember that even when we sinned,
the Divine soul within us remained faithful to God. Our relationship with God
can be reinstated and even improve, with greater depth and permanence.
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