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Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

“The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace.” (Numbers 6:26)

Yehuda Kurtzer (president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America) likes to say ancient texts are useful for the light they shed on contemporary society. Parashat Naso is a case in point. It includes the ordeal of the sota, the suspected adulteress. The text is both unclear and contradictory and is troubling to contemporary sensibilities; it sanctions a double standard with regard to women’s and men’s behavior.

Since Naso states, “…ish ish, any man, any man whose wife goes astray committing a trespass against him…” (Num. 5:12) and then describes the ritual ordeal the woman must endure (Num. 5:23-31) it is easy to assume the issue is adultery. But Rabbi Sarra Lev (Chair of the Department of Rabbinic Civilization at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) points out the woman is subject to the ordeal even if she’s done nothing wrong (Num. 5:14). This suggests the issue is really the husband’s jealousy (Num. 5:14, 18, 29). Lev interprets the doubling of ish ish to mean male jealousy is not a one-man issue for women. It is a many-men, or a societal, issue. So Naso puts the resolution into the hands of the community and out of the hands of the individual.

Still, Naso describes a humiliating ritual. And since, “…one who shames another, it is as though he shed blood” (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metziah 58b) the jealous husband effectively murders his wife—innocent or otherwise, without penalty. That’s justice?

A glance at any daily newspaper confirms Kurtzer’s perspective: Naso is not about a society in a far-away place a long time ago. It is about us, here and now.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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