Saturday 15th June 2019 12th Sivan 5779
Numbers 4:21-7:89; Judges 13:2-25; Luke 1:11-20
This week's portion includes further job instructions to the Levites, Moshe is instructed to purify the camp in preparation for the dedication of the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary.
Then four laws relating to the Cohanim are given:
1) Restitution for stolen property where the owner is deceased and has no next
of kin goes to the Cohanim.
2) If a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful, he brings her to the Cohanim for
the Sotah clarification ceremony.
3) If a person chooses to withdraw from the material world and consecrate
himself exclusively to the service of the Almighty by becoming a Nazir (vowing
not to drink wine or eat grape products, come in contact with dead bodies or
cut his hair), he must come to the Cohen at the completion of the vow.
4) The Cohanim were instructed to bless the people with this blessing:
Y'vareh'ha Adonai v'yishm'recha The L-rd Bless you and keep you,
Ya’eyr Adonai panav eylecha The L-rd make His face shine upon you and be
vichunecha. gracious unto you
Yisa Adonai panav eylecha The L-rd lift up his countenance toward you
v'yaseym l’cha shalom and give you peace
The Mishkan is erected and dedicated on the first of Nissan in the second year after the Exodus. The leaders of each tribe jointly give wagons and oxen to transport the Mishkan. During each of the twelve days of dedication, successively each tribal prince gives gifts of gold and silver vessels, sacrificial animals and meal offerings. Every prince gives exactly the same gifts as every other prince.
Part of the blessing which the Cohanim, the priests, bless the Jewish people is:
"The Lord shall make His face shine upon you." (Numbers 6:25)
One of the 613 commandments is to emulate the Almighty. What can we learn from this verse to emulate the Almighty?
The great sage Shamai said, "Greet every man with a pleasant expression of countenance" (Pirke Avos, 1:15) -- in this manner, we are "shining our countenance upon others". How can we have a "shining" countenance?
Look at the Person -- The minimum is to turn your face towards your fellow man; don't greet anyone with the side of your face. Turn your face towards him/her.
Express Interest -- Don't look bored or distracted.
Feel Happy -- to see the person and let your face show it!
Since God deals with us measure for measure, God makes His face shine upon those whose faces shine to their fellow human being!
The Talmud says "One must always be careful of wronging his wife, for her tears are frequent and she is quickly hurt."
Erasing God's Name
The husband of the woman suspected of adultery is brought to the Tabernacle. The priest officiating the ritual prepares a cocktail of water and dust from the Tabernacle floor. He makes the woman swear an oath that will bring an imprecation upon herself if she is guilty. Then the priest wrote out the words of the oath on a scroll, washed the ink from the scroll into the water and gave the water to the woman.
The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. (Numbers 5:23)
The woman drank the water, symbolizing the ingesting of the curse to prove her guilt or innocence. If she was guilty, the water would harm her. If she was innocent, the water would have no malignant effect on her. Instead, it would increase her fertility.
The procedure raises a difficulty, though. Ordinarily in Judaism it is forbidden to erase God's holy Name. For example, when a scribe is copying the Scriptures in Hebrew, he can erase any mistake he makes unless it contains God's Name. If he errs while writing a line of text with God's Name in it, he can erase the rest of the line, but not the Name of God.
For this reason, observant Jews do not write the Name of God in Hebrew on a chalkboard or white board that might be erased. Documents containing the written Hebrew Name of God take on a more precious status. They are not carelessly dropped or destroyed or irreverently tossed in the garbage. Holy books containing God's Name are not even left face down on a table or placed beneath other, less sacred books. Holy books are never taken into bathrooms. Even photocopies containing God's Name take on a holy status. When a scroll or book or piece of paper containing God's Name is ready for disposal, the item is accorded a proper "burial" of sorts in a repository for sacred writings. These traditions teach us to respect and revere God's Name.
Given the respect accorded to God's Name and the strong tradition against erasing God's Name, why does the Torah command the priest to erase the curse from the scroll into the water? God's holy Name appears twice in the curse. The sages teach that God is so concerned for peace between a husband and wife that He is even willing for His own Name to be erased to bring it about (Sifre 17).
In Judaism, peace between husband and wife is referred to as shalom bayit (שלום בית), a term that literally means "peace of the house." Peace between a husband and wife takes precedence even over the sanctity of God's Name. If that is the case, we need to be careful about allowing religion to disrupt marriage. God is more interested in the success of your marriage than He is in your particular religious choices. He is so committed to the sanctity of marriage that He is even willing for his Name to be erased to preserve peace in the home. How much more should we make every effort to bring peace into our homes.
The Talmud says "One must always be careful of wronging his wife, for her tears are frequent and she is quickly hurt." The Talmudic passage goes on to say that God is quick to respond to a wife's tears and that her tears are more efficacious than his prayers. God takes the tears of a woman very seriously. The passage concludes by saying, "One must always be respectful towards his wife because blessings rest on a man's home only for the sake of his wife." (b.Baba Metzia 59a)