20200606 Parsha Naso – Trust


Torah Portion Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftarah Judges 13:2-25
Brit Chadashah John 8:3-11

Our Torah Portion this week is Naso. It is not a recipe for a Japanese soup but means “take” as in take a census. The last couple of Parashot have included instructions for taking a census of the Israelites for various reasons. There was the one for military eligibility that didn’t include the Levites and then there was one for the Levites. In this Parsha Moses is directed to take a census of the Levites between 30 and 50. These would be the men who would be involved in active service in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

Parsha Naso is the largest of all the Parashot at 176 verses. It is in my opinion, one of the strangest due to one particular instruction. We see this one in Numbers 5:11-31. It is the instruction about what to do when a wife is unfaithful, or if her husband suspects her of being unfaithful. It is a very curious ritual in which a man who suspects his wife of committing adultery (and there are no witnesses) brings his wife to the Kohayn. The minutia of this ritual is spelled out in the Torah itself, as well as Sifrei Bamidbar. Not only that, but an entire tractate of Talmud is dedicated to this curious ritual, Tractate Sotah.

Torah gives us a very specific situation. A man believes his wife has committed adultery, and she denies it. There are no witnesses. So a “spirit of jealousy” comes upon the man so that he brings his wife to the Kohen to enact this ritual. The ending of the ritual is that she drinks the “bitter waters”, and if she has committed adultery, she becomes sick and dies. If she has not committed adultery, she is fine.

Sifrei explains that the water she is forced to drink does not actually taste bitter. Rather, it embitters her body so that she becomes sick and dies. The Halacha of the ritual is spelled out and can be easily found. But the reasons for the ritual itself is why Torah imparts to us the Sotah ritual.

Realistically, if the ritual of the Sotah is ever invoked by a man, that marriage is over. Either the woman has committed adultery, in which case she’s going to die drinking the bitter water, or the woman has not committed adultery and her husband has wrongly suspected her, to the point where he would force her to go through the ritual of Sotah. Either way, the marriage is over. So, truly, the ritual of the Sotah is designed to never be invoked.

Why would a ritual appear in the Torah if it is designed to never be invoked? The answer lies in discovering the trap of “the spirit of jealousy”. This is a destructive force which Torah makes us confront. In the situation of the Sotah, the jealousy has gotten so out of control that the husband wishes to punish his wife with death, not by an impromptu active passion, but by a premeditated calculating method. To get to the point of wishing to invoke the Sotah, the husband must be completely consumed with rage and hate. If the husband was willing to forgive his wife, he would never bring her to the Kohen for the ritual of Sotah.

If the wife has not committed adultery, she is trapped. Her husband does not believe her, and is so filled with jealousy and rage that he wants to see her die. If she goes through the ritual of Sotah and survives the bitter water, then what? Will the husband’s rage dissipate? It seems unlikely. If she has committed adultery, and she confesses to her husband, is he going to forgive her? This too seems unlikely.

So the real lesson Torah is teaching in the ritual of Sotah is about the husband’s jealous rage. The husband needs counseling. He is out of control. He needs to be reminded about his love for his wife. If he cannot conquer his own jealousy, he will ultimately destroy himself. It is the Kohen’s duty to talk the husband out of invoking the ritual of Sotah by pointing out that in the end nothing good can come of it. If he cannot overcome his own jealous rage, he should give his wife a Get and divorce her. If he can conquer himself, perhaps he can forgive her if she has committed adultery, or reconcile with her if she has not. Therefore, the key is in the husband conquering himself.

But there is another aspect to this that is important too. It is called trust. In the above Biblical illustration, there is definitely a breakdown in trust or perhaps a breakdown in faithfulness. The result of the husband not trusting his wife was the horrible humiliation of the Sotah. But there is also the possibility of the lack of faithfulness on the part of the wife. Either way a relationship was probably irrevocably severed. Never again could there be a marriage of two people sharing life together in peace.

There is an application that we can draw from the Sotah. It takes faithfulness, trust, and forgiveness for a relationship to work. I am not speaking exclusively about the marriage relationship. I am speaking about any kind of situation where there are two or more people engaged in activities that involve commitment to each other. That could be a work related environment, a sports team, a school homework project, or even a committee in the synagogue trying to develop a children’s education program. Basically, any serious social engagement could benefit from studying the Sotah.

Let’s assume the marriage started off happily with a man and woman in love with each other and looking forward to a long life together. But somewhere on this path of marital bliss they run off the road. Something happens and pride, emotions, stubbornness, anger, jealousy, you name it hits them from both sides. Instead of putting on the brakes and slowing down, they accelerate off the cliff. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Is your marriage going to be perfect with never an argument or harsh word? Probably not. How about those work groups that we all have suffered though? Is your family like Leave it to Beaver, or more like Dallas? Who shot JR anyway? No we all live in the real world and the real world is imperfect. My dad had a saying, It may not be right, but that’s life, so you have to do the right thing.

Let’s look at Yeshua doing the right thing.

John 8:3-11
(3) The Torah scholars and Pharisees bring in a woman who had been caught in adultery. After putting her in the middle,
(4) they say to Yeshua, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery.
(5) In the Torah, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?”
(6) Now they were saying this to trap Him, so that they would have grounds to accuse Him. But Yeshua knelt down and started writing in the dirt with His finger.
(7) When they kept asking Him, He stood up and said, “The sinless one among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
(8) Then He knelt down again and continued writing on the ground.
(9) Now when they heard, they began to leave, one by one, the oldest ones first, until Yeshua was left alone with the woman in the middle.
(10) Straightening up, Yeshua said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
(11) “No one, Sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Yeshua said. “Go, and sin no more.”

When Yeshua was confronted with the woman caught in adultery He realized this was a trap set for him by the religious leaders. According to the Law she should be stoned, but so should her paramour. But he was nowhere to be found. Witnesses were not named. A capital crime had to have at least two witnesses. There were a lot of things wrong with this confrontation.

But Yeshua just bent down and started writing in the dust. We don’t know what he wrote. Maybe names of the accusers and some of their hidden sins. We don’t know. But finally, Yeshua seems to agree with the religious leaders and says for the sinless ones to cast the first stone. Each of the accusers left without a further word.

There are some in today’s world that would condemn the woman and berate her in front of the crowd so as to humiliate her or perhaps contrast her lifestyle with their own. But Yeshua didn’t do that. He asked her where are your accusers, those who would condemn you. She replied that they were all gone.

Yeshua then said, I don’t condemn you. He certainly didn’t condone her conduct. I’m sure he knew all the circumstances surrounding her behavior. But He told her not to sin any more. Stop that conduct, that lifestyle and change.

What a contrast to the religious leaders. They were exercising the adrenaline rush of the power to condemn. Yeshua was exercising the power to forgive. Yeshua was the model here for what we read in Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua..

We are not told what became of the woman. After this public humiliation in the Temple complex her life would have been a disaster. Divorce if she was married, social shunning if she was not.

However, through the love and example of Yeshua, she had hope. She was perhaps at the end of the rope, but not the end of her hope.

There is always a place of forgiveness at the feet of Yeshua. No matter what we have done, we can come to Him for forgiveness and a new start.

2 Corinthians 5:17
(17) Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, there is forgiveness, hope and a future in Yeshua.