Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Pasrhas Naso 5769- The importance of relationships

This weeks parsha describes a number of relationships.  First it continues with the count of the Levi’im, first the Gershonites and then the Merim.  Then we have the discussion of the Sota followed by the laws of the Nazir.  The Parsha closes on the offerings brought by each of the princes of the tribes.  So first we have a count showing the relationship between people, each by their father’s house, in the service of the Mishkan.  Then we have a discussion on the marriage relationship followed by the relationship between G-d and someone seeking to enhance their spirituality- finally we have the relationship between G-d and the twelve tribes as they inaugurate the Mishkan.

What is central in all of these relationships, is the presence of G-d.  It doesn’t matter if the relationship is a physical one or a spiritual one, G-d is present in all of them.  It is also clear that every relationship is important to G-d.  There is no implication of a relationship being worth any less- in fact most of these show the sensitivity and importance of each relationship.  The Gershonites are counted before the Merari because they are the elder; G-d allows his name to be desecrated and destroyed as part of the process of the Sotah in order to reconcile a husband and wife; each of the princes brings their offering on a seperate day, and each offering is mentioned in full even though it is identical to the others.

Perhaps the last illustrates the importance of relationships more than any other- each prince brings an identical offering.  Yet each prince is unique on their day and is mentioned seperately.  Midrash rabbah tells us that though each prince brought an identical offering, each one had arrived at it differently and their reasons for bringing each item were unique.  So it is with relationships.  Each one is unique- from the outside we cannot see intot he depths and uniqueness that exists between people, but it is there.  Outside we see the manifestation- marriage, children, friendship; but the bond is unique in each case, forged differently to different purposes and with different effects.  No one definition or link can be said to define what a relationship is, how it make a relationship stronger or weaker- but each individual defines themselves and their links to others, and to G-d, uniquely.

The message from our parsha is clear- relationships are important.  We do not sacrifice them even for the sake of holiness- the Nazir’s vow is temporary, and at the end he brought sacrifices, including a Korban Chatas for denying himself pleasure in this world.  The sotah when reconciled to her husband is blessed; the mishkan was inaugurated, the Levi’im served in the mishkan and later in the Beis Hamikdash.  Relationships bind us together, create a whole- and if G-d can sublimate his honour to repair a family bond between husband and wife; then we should all be prepared to follow the example of Aharon and not worry about our honour in thw pursuit of repairing relationships and creating peace.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sotah and Nazir Originally posted June 3, 2008

This weeks parsha is Naso, and it starts off with discussing the sotah. The question is asked by the meforshim: Why does the Torah discuss the Sotah, the adulterous wife, and the suspected Sotah, straight after the Nazir- somebody who took an oath to abstain from all grape products, tumat meit (impurity from the dead) and cutting their hair. Essentially the Sotah and Nazir are polar opposites- one abstains to achieve holiness and the other immerses themselves in physicality (partaking in a forbidden sexual relationship) and degrades their spirituality completely.

One thing stated in the Talmud in both Masechta Sotah and Masechta Nazir is the idea that someone, on seeing a woman going through the process of drinking the bitter waters to determine if she was adulterous or not, should take a vow to be a Nazir.

So, how do you relate this to the modern era? Its simple- how much wallowing in pure physicality do we see on a daily basis? How much physicality is promoted in TV, movies, adverts, our daily lives? But the question is- what action do we take in our lives to counter this immersion in physicality? Do we just accept the modern era, accept that the world is not ideal? Or do we work on improving ourselves- accepting that though it is hard, we should find ways to increase our immersion in the spiritual, rather than accept that we have to accept what the world around us would have us accept as normal?

Perhaps the sotah teaches us this as well. if she was guilty- if she had sequestered with a man after her husband had told her not to, if she had engaged in an adulterous liaison, then both her and the man died painfully from the bitter waters (don’t forget, at any point in the process she could admit her guilt and walk away- divorced but with no other repercussions). if she was innocent- then the waters had served their purpose- peace was restored between husband and wife and she was blessed. So – here we see it- if we are mired in physicality, then we die- either literally or spiritually. If we reject the lure of the world around us- remain true to the Torah and its desire to enhance us spiritually, then we are blessed.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah, Parshah, Torah | , | Leave a comment

Linking Torah study and life- originally posted April 30, 2008

Maybe its just me- but I find that as I study, what I study always seems to connect in with the events in my life (OK, so I look for the connection- whats the point of studying Torah if its merely academic?)

So, I started Daf Yomi on Masechta Yoma- just before Yom Kippur. I was starting the laws of Aveilus (mourning) when my Grandmother died, Masechta Kesubos (The Talmudic Tractate on the marriage contrate and how it applies in divorce) when my marriage fell apart. On Friday my ex’s Grandmother (in other words my kids Great Grandmother) died (the funeral was Monday after Yom Tov- she died too close to shkiah for a funeral on Friday). At the moment, the Daf Yomi cycle is on Masechta Nazir (the laws of the Nazirite) and I wondered how it applied in this situation. Aside from the correlation between the Nazir not being allowed to contaminate himself with Tumat Hameit (impurity from a dead body- the most severe form of impurity) I struggled. Then it came to me- we are in Nissan

Now- Nissan is a special month, we celebrate our freedom as a nation, we look forward to celebrating the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot- so much so that we count the days. And in Nissan- we do not make a hesped (eulogy) for those that die. Instead, most Rabbis will try to find something to talk about that was highlight of the deceased personality- bringing it out, without directly eulogising the person. And Masechta Nazir does that in this case.

My kids Great Grandmother was a remarkable woman when it came to maintaining relationships- the drive behind maintaining a close family on that side though they are dispersed across four continents (USA, Great Britain, South Africa and Australia)- and the Nazir is all about relationships.

Why does a person take a vow of Nezirus? He wishes to bring himself closer to God- to establish a closer relationship with the God and to become holier. But at the end of the term of Nezirus he brings, in addition to the other offerings, a sin offering. In his attempt to come closer to God- the Nazir must damage his mundane relationships. If a friend or family member dies, he cannot attend a funeral. He cannot go and drink wine with friends, he must deny himself certain pleasures. This abstanance is viewed so negatively that a husband is justified in divorcing his wife if she takes a vow of Nezirus; as the Talmud says- may men do not want to be married to an abstinent wife!

So heres the connection I was seekin:- we learn from the Nazir the importance of all relationships, mundane and holy. We learn how important it is to maintain relationships and how great a mitzvah it is to cement those connections. We learn how great is the mitzvah and merit in one who ensures the continuity of family and community by maintaining those links for severing them, or ignoring them, can only lead to dissolution of those two bedrocks of society: family and community.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah, Talmud | , , | Leave a comment