THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
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A. THE BACKGROUND OF NASO
After its general census of Jewish males, the Torah now turns to people of special status, positive and negative, saints and sinners. Saadya Gaon claims that the descendants of Moshe & Aharon are the first such grouping of leaders (3:1)-- yet no descendants of Moshe follow! Perhaps they're the preceding 603,550 males, 20-60, everyone being a spiritual descendant of both of these great teachers (see our Bamidbar study, "D"); one might even attribute physical "paternity", "rebirthing", of the entire people to Moshe & Aharon!-- their prayers averted Divine destruction of Israel.
Kehotite Levites were charged with transporting the holy vessels in Bamidbar (4:1-20). Naso opens with tasks of the other Levites, 4:21-49. Why did the rabbis so split Ch. 4 between the two readings? Perhaps if they hadn't, we'd call our portion Tsav, first keyword in 5:1; Tsav, however, is already the name of the 2nd portion of Leviticus! (cf. all those who confuse "Vaeira" and "Vayera", and "Shlach", "Vayishlach" and "B'shalach"). Abarbanel sees a descending order of holiness in our readings-- only priests may have direct contact with holy utensils; Kehotite Levites are holy enough to bear them on their shoulders, while other Levites carry only the tabernacle and courtyard, moved in wagons. Naso opens with the functions of the Gershonites, to restore the distinction due Levi's firstborn. It's the longest Torah reading, 176 verses (= Amus, laden). The Only Testament (O.T.)'s longest chapter, Psalm 119, also has 176 verses, 8 for each of the 22 Hebrew letters; the longest talmudic tractate (Baba Basra) has 176 pages.
Non-Jewish printers may have determined pagination of the Talmud and chapter division of the Bible; so Righteous Gentile Yisro criticized Moshe's teaching Torah via the cumbersome lengthy case method; his proposed reorganization and institutionalization of religious education was accepted by both God and Moshe. The prophets criticize Israel for ignoring sensible good things of other nations (e.g. smoking bans, social security, ramps for the handicapped), as well as for adopting their arbitrary and/or profane nonsense (e.g. beauty contests, making such a big deal about sports, New Years Eve, etc.). Jewish Masoretic verse 4:1 is our 4:17; its 5:1 is our 5:11.
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B. A SYNOPSIS OF NASO
"FAMOUS FOLKS", "FOLLOWER-FOLKS", AND "FORGOTTEN FOLKS"
Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, and never brought to mind? Clever King Solomon, in reflecting on his rich variegated life, in Kohelet, implies that it will indeed be eventually forgotten-- so the cookie crumbles: "A generation arrives, and a generation departs, but the earth remains forever" (Ecc. 1:4); "There is no remembrance of the earlier generations; nor will there be remembrance of the later generations, by those who come after them" (1:11-- Moshe, Dovid, and the Rebbe too?). "The wise man, just like the fool, will not be remembered forever; when the days pass, all will be forgotten, even the fact that the wise man dies just like the fool" (2:16). "... whereas the righteous... are forgotten in the very city where they performed righteousness-- this too is a transient state" (8:10). "... for a live dog is better off than a dead lion" (9:4); "the only thing that the living are sure of is death; the dead know nothing; there's no further reward for them, for their memory is forgotten. Their loves, their hates, and their jealousies-- all have perished. They have lost forever any part in whatever is done under the sun" (9:5-6). "Whatever you can do, do with all your might, for there is neither deed, nor planning, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, toward which you are heading" (9:10-- see Koheleth, Life And Its Meaning, $12 from TOP). Is it realistic to expect that our words and writings will be noticed a few hundred years down the road to Meshiach? Won't great discoveries and paridigm shifts, perhaps Meshiach himself, render them obsolete? Complete mastery of even one field today is impossible-- there's simply too much to read. How hard should I work at these studies? At trying to know everything?
Last week we urged our readers to compile their own list of the 10 greatest Jews since 1700-- if you didn't, do so now, if possible; affirm that their remembrance still burns bright, at least for you, though they may not be aware that you're doing so; also bear in mind the countless myriads of great and not-so-great Jews, whom you didn't choose, most of whom you never heard of, the fate of most of us after a few generations. What do you know of your own great-great-grandparents? Do you in any way identify with them? What beliefs and attitudes do you share with them, if any? Would you like each other? How many of us are descendants of the worst barbarians, who raped our great-great grandmothers? Have we inherited their traits and "fixed" them, by using them positively, e.g. in Tzahal?-- cf. "He who craves murder will become a ritual slaughterer".
Moshe is now to count male Gershonite and Merarite Levites too, from 30 to 50. The Torah adds 2 seemingly superfluous words (4:22): COUNT GAM HAM, "ALSO THEM", or "THEY ARE ALSO". GAM is indeed the initials of Gershon & Merari-- perhaps their essence is "ALSO-PEOPLE" (cf. "boat-people"), those who are supportive of great leaders, those who build the infrastructure, rather than themselves being great movers and shakers, leaders of mankind, who set its tone and direction; they move the tent, rather than carrying the holy utensils; their role is equally important, "also" counts-- it's a sine qua non for Kehot & Aharon to do their much greater work. A good educational system doesn't deny talent, or try to create a false euphoria of equality; but equal respect and appreciation must be given those NOT suitable for glamorous roles (cf. family and school groups); God rebuked Rashby, when he scorned and scorched earthy farmers. The talmud suggests that Rebbe Yishmael, who preached combining worldliness, especially farming, with Torah, is a better model than Rashby for most folks. Per Hirsch and Rashbam, Yissaschar is such a great farmer and scholar of Torah and Science. Brother Zvulun only markets Yissaschar's produce and brings him foreign visitors, that he inspire them; he does not support him, a perversion of Torah per Rambam (Rashi and Yaakov Emden disagree). Let's digress a bit, along the path to which this study has led us, a la the talmud (cf. J. Joyce's stream of consciousness)--
A REPRESSED MAJORITY?: Over half the Jews alive, women and children, may also feel that they're repressed "also-people", "follower folks", whose lives and efforts merely provide the background for men to do their glorious thing. We should follow God's example of giving them equal honor and a sense of importance. For male children (and slaves, who may be freed), their social impotence is only temporary, but for little girls (thank heaven for them), it's often a permanent position. Did you include any women, e.g. the Rebbe's wife and mother, Sara Shnierer, Golda Meir, in your minyan of the greatest Jews of the last 300 years? Any non-observant Jews, e.g. Herzl, Einstein, Freud? If not, why not? Yet, although God does give Gershon and Merari due respect, He still commands that they fulfill their own unique, though less glamorous, functions, their particular fulfillment and destiny; one will never find fulfillment in pursuing another's destiny, e.g. Gershonites who try to be Kehotites, Levites who try to be Cohanim, the ungifted who seek equal opportunity in higher education, and unnatural Western women who ape men (see Yentl soon.)
While I reject much (not all) of what Jewish feminists claim, they deserve a patient and sympathetic hearing, as does any aggrieved person; sometimes, as Ms. Tzlafchad, they turn out to be right-- God tells Moshe to heed their words. But their desires, like everyone else's, are limited by God's Laws of human nature, the halacha. Rachel Adler (related to Shulamit Aloni, nee Adler, and Rav Nathan Adler?) indeed writes from the perspective of an aggrieved, but halachically committed, Jewess (The Jew Who Wasn't There-- Halacha and the Jewish Woman, Response, Summer 1973, 7:22-- she later gradually lost her halachic focus, along with her original enthusiasm with mikva):
"Ultimately, our problem stems from the fact that we are viewed in Jewish law and practice as peripheral Jews. The catagory in which we are generally placed includes women, children and Canaanite slaves (YF: were the rabbis aware of the ultimate negative alienating effects of this catagorization?-- cf. Avtalyon, Avot 1:11: "Wise men, be careful with your words...")... members of this catagory have been `excused' from most of the positive symbols which, for the male Jew, hallow time, hallow his physical being, and inform both his myth and his philosophy... for members of this catagory, the characteristic posture of their Judaism is negation (the negative mitzvot), rather than affirmation... Torah study is incumbant upon them only insofar as it relates to `their' mitzvot. Whether women are even permitted to study further is debated... the peripheral Jew is excused, and sometimes barred, from the acts and symbols which are the lifeblood of the believing community...
"How is it that the tzadikim seem so individualized, and the tzidkaniyot so generalized?-- first of all, the mitzvot of the tzadeket are mainly directed towards serving others... she sacrifices herself in order that others may actualize themselves spiritually (e.g. Rav Akiva's #1 wife, Rachel, later joined by his #2 wife, the former Mrs. Turnus Rufus)... Second, as Hillel says, `an ignoramus cannot be a saint.' He may have the best of intentions, but lacks the disciplined creativity, the sense of continuity with his people's history and thought, and the forms in which to give Jewish expression to his religious impulses. Since it was traditional to give women cursory religious educations, they were severely limited in their ways of expressing religious commitment...
"In its time, the Talmud was a very progressive view (of women). The last truly revolutionary ruling for women, however, was the Edict of Rabbenu Gershom, forbidding polygamy (and forced divorce) to the Jews of the Western world. That was in 1000 C.E. The problem is that very little has been done since then to ameliorate the position of Jewish women in observant Jewish society. All of this can quickly be rectified, if one steps outside of Jewish tradition and halacha. The problem is how to obtain some justice and some growing room for the Jewish woman, if one IS committed to remaining within halacha.
"Some of these problems are more easily solved than others... The halachic scholars must examine our problem anew, right now, with open minds and with empathy. They must make it possible for women to claim their share in the Torah, and begin to do the things a (male?) Jew was created to do (brit too?-- cf. the Lamaze Lie to fathers, "you're having the baby too!", and non-functioning symbolic male breasts). If necessary, we must agitate until the scholars are willing to see us as Jewish souls in distress, rather than as tools with which men do mitzvos. If they continue to turn a deaf ear to us, the most learned and halachically committed among us must make halachic decisions for the rest. That is a move to be saved for desperate straits, for even the most learned of us have been barred from acquiring the systematic knowledge which a rabbi has. But, to paraphrase Hillel, in a place where there are no menschen, we may have to generate our own menschlichkeit. There is no time to waste. For too many centuries, the women has been a golem, created by Jewish society. She cooked and bore and did her master's will, and, when her tasks were done, the Divine Name was removed from her mouth. It is time for the golem to demand a soul.
"P.S. The sort of piskei halacha requested are GENUINE decisions, based on sources and understanding of the halachic process, made by people who understand and observe the Torah. Rationalizations will not do."
Adler's article was reprinted in the anthology of Rabbi Abraham Joshua and Sylvia's only child, long unwed Susannah Heschel, "On Being a Jewish Feminist-- A Reader"; while interesting, much of the rest of the book denies the Divinity of the Torah and authority of the halacha; therefore it is both irrelevant and irreverant for truly traditional Jews.
But the rabbis were aware of the problem; they knew that formal public recognition and honor were not woman's lot; but that did not mean that they were not honored or respected (study the Biblical paeon to a good wife, A Woman of Valor, Proverbs 31:10f, sung in most Jewish homes before kiddush Friday night); theirs was a higher honor: "All the honor of a king's daughter is within" (Yev. 70a). Only she, the prime nurturer, is created "like His own Will or Personality"; thus only she determines her child's spiritual essence, his/her Jewishness. She's created last, in the ascending order of Creation (Hirsch; but male differentiation of the fetus occurs later-- see Moore soon). As God in His Infinite Loving Essence, she remains hidden and mysterious; she is alone, public fixed prayer being an artificial limitation on her limitless soul, often not appreciated by even the highest male; so High Priest Eli confuses Chana's heartfelt outpouring with that of a drunk, though she becomes the model for the laws and structure of prayer, for both male and female.
Like God in His more limited role of the Lord of Nature, of natural law and natural forces, the male, conquering "image of the Lord", of "Elokim", stresses the external, the public realm, the quest for fame and fortune. He must stress that blessed God "has not made me a woman", she-lo asani isha (Men. 43b), both to remind himself of his need for her unique spiritual greatness, which he lacks, and to guard himself from sliding down the slippery slope of losing his masculinity, forcing the woman to adopt the masculine role (Fuchs, The Family), destroying the family unit; Rav Dr. Menachem M. Brayer, in The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature-- A Psychohistorical perspective, attributes such male weakness to a reversion to the original female state of all human beings in their early gestation:
"Modern embryological research has demonstrated conclusively that, in humans, the differentiation of the male from the female form begins about the 6th week of embryonic life, and is completed by the 3rd month. In fact, all mammalian embryos, M & F, are anatomically female during the early stages of fetal life. There is much evidence disproving the concept of the initial anatomical bisexuality of the embryo. On the contrary, the early embryo, rather than being bisexual, or even undifferentiated, is actually female. These females structures are transformed into male organs only under the influence of a male genetic code, the action of fetal androgens. It is the male of the species, then, who must overcome his innate female anatomy and psychology. Female structures develop autonomously, without the necessity of hormonal differentiation. If, before the first 6 weeks, the female gonads are removed from a genetic female, she will develop into a normal female. If the female gonads are smilarly removed from a genetic male, he will develop into a female. Male development can be seen as a deviation from the basic female pattern, a concept intimated by our sages (Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human-- cf. Zohar 3, p. 274; Tikunei Zohar 67:98).
"These embryological findings help explain the much debated morning blessing of she-lo asani isha. It's recitation is in accordance with the above, to suppress and nullify these latent biological aspects of the female structures in man. The male blessing is not so much to praise what man was made to be, as to acknowledge what he should not be, the perpetuator of female latent traits, originating in this early embryonic life. Not so the woman, whose embryo never had to undergo changes, but continued its normal developmental course. She need not negate any biological male tendencies which she never had, and, therefore, can naturally praise the Lord: "Who has made me according to His Will" (I translate : "... like his Will or Personality"-- YF).
When women have underdeveloped nurturing, when their potential as "mother of all life" is not realized, they focus on their second-rate status in those realms primarily masculine, and feel cheated and deprived. Many Ph.D. ladies go bananas with one or two kids, while many Bet Yaakov grads, mothers of many, overflow with strength, vitality, and enthusiasm. As Eli Sagan shows so well (Freud, Women and Morality), good mothering is the prime source of all love, idealism and truly humane human civilization. Many, not all, of the feminist writers simply lack the basic experience of motherhood, as their true femininity remains repressed. They lack the "chen", holiness, warmth and sweetness, so often found in Bet Yaakov women, so rare in Western women.
I wanted a female response to Adler's article too, so I read it to a dynamic truly tradtional Jerusalem mother of many, whose home is open to all. Her basic response was simply that Adler's facts are off, at least today. Leading scholars, e.g. the Rov and the Rebbe, long urged women to immerse themselves in both Jewish and secular studies, including Talmud; even Bet Yaakov women get much Talmud, albeit filtered thru Rashi, etc. Many ultra-orthodox women are great teachers of Torah, although they usually, for modesty, only teach men thru their books. Home and child formation, and, especially, the molding of a Divine Image, are the very most important tasks; their being given mainly to women is the greatest compliment to their creativity, commitment, competence and depth. Both the redemption from Egypt and Israel's future redemption are attributed to women.
Back on track-- The Gershonites handled the Communion Tent, its coverings, the outer courtyard curtains, and related ropes and tools. The Merarites transported the more prosaic beams, pillars, bases and crossbars, and the stakes and guyropes of the courtyard. There were 8580 working Levites, 30-50: 2750 Kehotites, 2630 Gershonites, 3200 Merarites (the holier, the fewer, as Levi itself-- Klei Yakar; but, if so, then the Kehotites should be less than the Gershonites!), about 40% of the 22M Levites, who were numbered from one month; also, 22M righteous men are required to bear the Divine Chariot in this world-- cf. the 22 letters of the alef-bet. God may have limited Levite fecundity to teach this lesson (Klei Yakar), OR their small number may be the remnant, after God wiped out all but the best Levites in Egypt, the few who didn't assimilate, OR they legitimately practised celibacy under Egypt's terrible conditions (But the Levites had it good there! Was there good birth control then?)
The PURITY of the camp is now stressed; Jewish warriors must remember their role-- a "kingdom of priests and holy nation"-- to redeem humanity (Ex. 19:6); Levites help them maintain this awareness. The Jewish soldier should battle with a sense of sad necessity; the "joy of war" is for Syrian barbarians, eating live snakes, for H.R.M. Hussain or Arafat, who would murder any Arab who sells a Jew his apartment, for sadistic Saddam, praised by H.R.M.-- let's hope that he's finally repented, goes in the good ways of his peaceful grandfather, and sets up a working model of Arab-Jewish beneficial peace, which will be adopted by the rest of the Arab world; open dynamic peace with North Africa and the Gulf States should (and seems to) be the next step-- but peace with Syria may not be worth the price. Jews are to await moral maturity at 20, rather than being drafted at 17-18 (see our Bamidbar study).
The Torah NOW gives details of last month's tabernacle dedication; Israel must constantly remember their true place and purpose-- to camp about it and all that it represents (their focus and existence emanate from it-- Rav Drori, vs. Meretz). One afflicted by Divine Tzra'at, or by an unusual discharge from the male organ (zav), or who had intimate contact with the dead, was also affected in his "soul-state"; he had to respectively leave all 3, 2, or 1 of the concentric Jewish camps (Num. 5:1-4); those who were impure did so*.
The Torah REPEATS the law (Lev. 5:21) regarding one who held another's property, swearing that he didn't have it-- he must add 20% and bring a guilt offering; God adds 2 new details: 1) if the victim died without legal relatives (only a convert so dies), his estate reverts to the priest. 2) the penalty applies only to one who confessed before being caught (Rashi). After the tribal census excluded converts, the Torah stresses that they and their property deserve equal respect (Ramban;-- and even greater love. God's their father too!). So the Torah speaks of the arrival of Yisro, a fine Gentileman, right after God orders the extermination of unreformable Amalek, tho Yisro may have arrived on the scene only later, after the Decalogue-- but it reminds us that there are very good non-Jews too (Ibn Ezra); so the Lord of History brought the Danes with the Nazis; the Jew could then retain respect for humanity, retain hope, when hope itself seemed hopeless (E. Weisel's Cantata). Modern genetics may identify descendants of Yisro and Amalek, and the members of the 12 tribes (John Hully, whose new work, Comets, Jews & Christians-- Scientists & Bible-believers confront the greatest threat to our survival, is $20 postpaid).
EVERY RAISED OFFERING... WHICH THEY BRING TO THE PRIEST, TO BE NEAR TO GOD (per Hirsch), SHALL BE HIS (5:9). This refers to first fruits, BROUGHT to the temple (R. Yishmael); their disposition was unclear in Ex. 23:19. A Cohen GOES OUT to collect his other dues. A Jew may PICK the priest who gets his dues-- no cohen may grab them. So you needn't donate to any specific Yeshiva or cause. A fortiori, kal v'chomer, you may and should pick the best environment for YOUR mind and soul, after experiencing them all; no Yeshiva, rabbi, or movement may demand that one study or pray only with them. They should not work for themselves, only for Torah and God; a fine teacher or parent encourages you to see if other teachers suit you better! So God's angels work together in his Masterplan, honoring each other-- accept as your teacher only a rabbi who's such an "angel of the Lord of Hosts" (the Belzer Rebbe-- may one learn from those rabbis of Degel Hatorah, Y'ted Neaman, and the Reform Movement who smear, not just disagree with, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Riskin?). Our Jerusalem Jewish Information Center offers info and video lectures of many programs and teachers.
Next come laws of sotah, the tested suspected wife-- one who begrudges the priest's dues will wind up bringing his wife to him (Rashi, 5:12, Ber. 63a)! Perhaps egocentric stinginess, blindness to the great role of others, also leads to lack of appreciation and recognition of one's wife and her uniqueness-- she may then wrongly turn elsewhere. So avaricious religious leaders (above) may share the laity's guilt-- competing for souls and donations may turn Jews off to "holy" people; they then won't pay their dues! But Israelites shouldn't give up-- they must keep searching for Torah leaders of selfless integrity; Gentiles should seek such Jewish guides too. A "giver", e.g. Arye Levine, inspires others; they're turned off by "takers", who accost them at the wall, SELLING their friendship and blessings (especially if fanatic intolerance lurks behind the pleasant facade!); see Eli Wohlgelernter's highly engrossing and informative article, Day And Night At The Kotel (JP Magazine, 5/17/96)-- a panoramic, off-the-wall and highly romantic overview of the Wall.
To broaden Eli's vision, add the unromantic views of those who question the over-veneration of what is, halachically, only the wall of a synagogue-- The Western Wall, though not found in the Talmud Index, does appear in Midrashim. Rav Aha claims that the shechina remained at the Western Wall, which might indeed refer to the Western Wall of the Temple itself, possibly extant until the middle ages, not to the present outer retaining Wall-- but some Midrashim claim that the Western Wall will never be destroyed; Rav Shmuel b. Nachman, however, claims that the shechina returned to heaven, awaiting the 3rd Temple, while Rav Eleazer believed that it remained on the Temple site itself (see Exodus Raba 2:2, Numbers Raba 11:2, Lam. Raba 1:5:31, and S. of S. Raba 2:9:4; B.B. 25a discusses the "direction" of the shechina, concluding: "Go West, pious man!"; get your "maariv" plaque soon, just in case). Y. Leibowitz proposed tearing down the Wall, just as Hezekiah destroyed Moshe's over-venerated brass serpant (2K18:4, Num. 21:6f); maybe we'll find the lost ark behind it and rebuild the temple!
Some of the Wall's most outstanding personalities are missing in Eli's article-- e.g. Rav Meir Shuster, its longest-term pickup artist, who has radically upgraded the deprived Jewish lives of so many young Jewish visitors to the Wall, and Rav Y. Hadari, who leads the inspiring procession from Yeshivat Hakotel to the Wall each Friday night; the article also ignores the multitude of literature, e.g. parshat hashavua studies of all kinds, distributed there, often the uninformed visitor's sole source of Jewish information-- the Ministry of Religions doesn't even have an information booth at the Wall; we try, with our most modest resources, to fill this lack at TOP. Finally, the article doesn't explore the organizational and political connections of many who "work the Wall", or, as Eli succinctly puts it, those "in the God business"-- e.g. with Meir Kahane and radical Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg.
Torah must not be a way of making a living (see Rambam, Avot 4:5 or 7). The beggers obviously need your blessing more than v.v.-- bless them that they be willing and able to earn an honest livelihood; the talmud concludes from Psalm 128 that one who honestly earns his own livng is even greater than one with awe of God. The well-funded Ministry of Religions, besides just occasionally chasing away those beggers who aren't good friends with its guards, should at least provide a dynamic free information desk near the Wall, a function we try to fulfill nearby, despite grossly inadequate resources.
THE WAYWARD WIFE... The Sotah Saga opens: A MAN, A MAN, WHEN HIS WIFE GOES OFF THE DEEP END (Rashi) AND BETRAYS HER HUSBAND (5:12): she betrays 2 "men"-- her mate and God, husband of Israel (Mid. Tan., see Hoshea, S. of S.). IF hubby warned her not to be alone with X, yet she did so, BUT ONLY IF BOTH ACTS ARE WITNESSED BY 2 MALES, then 1 witness to her adulterous intercourse renders her forbidden to her husband (though she's not killed unless 2 witnessed it, whose warning she ignored); her paramour must be at least 9. If there are NO witnesses to intercourse, she's forbidden only UNTIL SHE PASSES THE BITTER WATER TEST. It allows her to remain married, DESPITE her cheap behavior, if she didn't have illicit intercourse. She needn't take the test, but then forfeits her divorce settlement (Hirsch, Sefer Hachinuch). Her husband can divorce her at will, per Torah law**. Thus we ONLY speak of a case where he WANTS her back and she WANTS to return. Once Jews lost their high moral standards, this test, now ineffective, wasn't given. Immorality no longer made such an impression (cf. today, Soap, Dynasty). A non-informed reader of Naomi Regan's penetrating engrossing socio-psychological study of Jerusalem Haredim, Sotah or The Wayward Wife, might wrongly assume that a crazy jealous husband could force his wife to take the test without warning. Influential writers-- be careful with your words.
If they elect the test, she's brought before the cohen with a barley offering, cheap animal food; so the Jews, on a low "animal" level, had BETRAYED GOD, flirting with Egyptian idolatry; they too brought a waved barley omer offering (cf. lulav), as they began a 7 week evolution to Sinai. She adds no oil or incense to her joyless offering. Holy water is taken from the temple laver, made from mirrors of Egyptian Jewesses-- they used them to seduce their depressed broken husbands, thus enabling Israel to multiply and continue. The mirrors again engender holy families, in proving her innocence or guilt. The water's mixed with temple floor dust, to prepare the bitter waters of curse (earth and its passions can be sanctified via the water of Torah). Her hair is uncovered and disarrayed, symbolic of her lack of modesty. The Talmud concludes that a married woman with uncovered hair is immodest, or that the Torah simply assumes it was covered (see Rashi, Sifre, Silb. Ed. 24b). She's warned of terrible bodily afflictions if guilty. She must reply "AMEN, AMEN" for the proceedings to continue.
The curses contain God's Name, which may not be destroyed***. Yet these curses are dissolved in water-- God lets His Name be destroyed to restore Jewish family harmony, the sine qua non for His good Name on earth (cf. Bilaam's words: "How good are your tents, Yaakov..."). She drinks it after the priest presents and waves her offering, burning a handful. It becomes bitter throughout her body, starting with her belly and thigh, scene of the alleged crime (Rashi). If she's guilty, her body will swell abnormally and people will curse her. She distorted nature by confusing paternity, the likely basis of the double standard of adultery; perhaps God also expects greater marital loyalty from the more Godlike female, created "like His Will"; He may want the husband to lead the family, impossible if the wife has another man, even a "platonic" relationship at Shabbat services, pulling her away from her husband and children. But the test won't work if the husband is also sexually immoral in any way (Sota 47b, Yev. 58a)-- God's laws of morality grant men in no way greater license for sexual irregularities than they do for women (Hirsch); but polygamy is permitted and her husband's "adultery" with a single woman is not punished and does not cause bastardy. Perhaps her loyalty is far more important than his, as she's to build the home temple which will tame and sanctify the innately savage male, replacing his mother.
If innocent of ultimate betrayal- intercourse- , she will conceive, if she never had children, or easily have more beautiful children! Israel's idolatrous adultery is similar; yet God promises never to divorce her (Hoshea 2, Haftorat Bamidbar). Israel, God's bride (see Song of Songs), didn't completely yield to "adultery" with alien cultures; she'll now bear God more beautiful children, with easier labor-- the renewed vital State of Israel will finally bring mankind back to the God of the Torah, to Noachism, w/o the terrible birthpangs of Egypt and Rome, of the Crusades & Holocaust. God lets Israel, His eternal love, "take the test".
**Medieval Rabbenu Gershom both required a wife's consent to divorce and forbade polygamy-- he assimilated Gentile values re: monogomy, per 18th century Rav Yaakov Emden (Shalot Yavetz II:15). Modern Rabbis J.B. Soloveichik and Reuven Bulka disagree with Emden; Bulka assumes that God let husbands divorce at will to encourage them to take on and support extra wives, who otherwise might not marry, especially with a surplus of females; once polygamy was banned, her consent to divorce was also required (NO EXIT, NO ENTRY-- p. 81 in his indexless, but interesting, "Jewish Divorce Ethics-- the right way to say goodbye"); cf. the Conservative rationalist approach to Halacha, e.g. re chinaware; Sephardic men, who rejected the prohibition on polygamy (and may practice it today, per Rav Ovadia Yosef), may indeed still divorce unilaterally, as Moslems, though their rabbinic courts discourage it (Rav Yosef Kapach).
*** Non-Jewish names, e.g. God, Lord, G-d, L-rd, may be erased (Rav J. B. Soloveichik); using "-" instead of "o", G-d, achieves nothing-- Rabbis JBS & Y. Ginsburg, who is extra-strict, even re: non-hebrew names; though he too uses the pious convention "G-d" in his books, he leaves a blank space or uses a numerical equivalent of God in his hand-written material, likely to be destroyed.
...AND THE NAZARITE: One who sees (and is tempted by?) the sensual sotah's disgrace will likely go to the opposite extreme, becoming a Nazir-- forbidding himself grape products and haircuts for a designated period (Sota 2a); he must also avoid all contact with death, as a high priest. Rav Azriel Ariel explores the complex effects of the prohibitions upon the Nazarite's personality. Drinking wine greatly increases the natural spontaneous powers, while at the same time weakening the strength of the powers which restrain spontaneous outbursts. It removes the barriers of shame and the mind's measured criticism. The prohibition against drinking wine directs the nazir to curb his natural powers.
But the prohibition against hair-cutting is the opposite. It is no coincidence that the army demands that every soldier cut his hair to a minimal length. The kipah which is worn on the head also expresses one's readiness to accept the yoke from above. Wild growth of the hair expresses the desire for freedom, for escaping apprehensions, for spontaneous expression of personality. The nazir is commanded to grow the hair of his head wild, specifically commanded to be spontaneous. This was the secret of Shimshon's strength.
The close meeting with death also has a restraining effect. Chazal advise someone whose evil inclination is overpowering him that "he should remind himself of the day of death." Thus the nazir must keep away from the fearful restricting effects of a tangible meeting with death. The nazir is a revolutionary character, breaking out of the framework. Israeli society needs people like these too: independent, original, creative revolutionaries. Mighty Shimshon was such. Shmuel Ha'Ramati too. In order to fulfill their tasks, they had to keep away from that which curbs and restrains their explosive personalities. This might does not come from their normal human strengths, but from Hashem's spirit which beats within them. Together with this, a great danger is hidden in them-- they must therefore take steps to balance this, such as the prohibition against drinking wine. A serious prohibition against fortifying his natural spontaneity by artificial means is imposed upon the nazir, such as drinking alcohol (or other drugs). He must express the voice of Hashem which calls within him, and not an artificial human spirit. The danger of the nazir is balanced in the final process of being a nazir. Then he must return to curtail his explosive powers, he must shave all of his hair and bring a sacrifice, which expresses the necessary self-annulment demanded of him, towards Hashem his G-d.
The Sota's husband, drunk on wine, may have driven her into the arms of another-- now he'll be a nazarite (Rav J. Baker-- cf. Naval, Dovid and Avigayil)! So returnees, who led wild lives, often become overly rigid; afraid to trust their thoughts and feelings, they follow Godlike guru-rebbes and roshei yeshiva, deemed beyond error (even greater than Moshe!), with clear black and white views and attire. Such constipated, once diarrheic, personalities find these sheets upsetting, even if SOMEONE ELSE reads them! They often fight lashon hara obsessively, themselves likely to be lurid objects of it. A Nazir who becomes ritually unclean starts his Nazarite period over, but not if he just drinks wine. When he finishes the designated period, he brings varied sacrifices, including a SIN offering.
TRUE BLESSING: The priests are to bestow God's blessing upon Israel: MAY GOD BLESS AND PROTECT YOU, MAY GOD CAUSE HIS FACE TO ENLIGHTEN YOU AND GIVE YOU GRACE, MAY GOD LIFT UP HIS FACE TO YOU AND PLACE PEACE UPON YOU (6:23ff); but the Tetagrammaton is used only in the tabernacle (Ramban); personal integration of these life messages is the key to blessing. God, in turn, blesses the priests. Rav Hirsch relates the 3 levels of blessing to the 3 concentric Israelite camps. Simple physical blessing, bracha, the first level, engenders the need for protection, shmira-- both from loss of the blessing and from being spoiled by it. Rav Yehuda Henkin adds that the spiritual 2nd blessing includes finding chen, grace or favor, in the eyes of others-- those liked by people are liked by God (Avot 3:13). Force and intimidation may bring order, not peace. Yet peace must be linked to truth and justice to endure-- Avot 1:18. So Avraham's admonishment of Avimelech leads to peace-- Gen. 21:25. "God gives strength to His people (surviving the 1900 year Diaspora, founding The State of Israel & Tzahal)"; then-- "God will bless His people with peace" (the only true blessing-- Ps. 29:11; may the Israel-Jordan agreement become an effective model soon).
God must impose true peace, as we may not like the concomitant reform and rebuke, vs. our short term interests. Yet in a panegyric to peace, the rabbis interpreted Hoshea 4:17-- "Efrayim is JOINED TOGETHER (Chabur, denoting a TEMPORARY joint) in idol worship-- let him alone!"-- God ignores even idolatry of a peaceful society. Such peace-in-sin, however, can't last-- cf. the flood generation; first "the earth was corrupt before The Lord of Nature" (alternative life styles?), then "the earth was filled with violence" (Gen. 6:11; an otherwise kind drug addict may kill an elderly lady for $5); then delayed punishment comes-- "Their heart's divided; now they'll be found guilty" (10:2; cf. the intifada); so the flood destroys all life upon earth, due to human corruption, but only after it erupts in violence (Gen. 6:12-13). Shalom, peace, our word of both welcome and departure, concludes the priestly blessings, the Oral Law (Uk. 3:12), the 18 Blessings, and Grace After Meals. We take 3 steps backward after the 18, showing that one must step back from his own position, compromise, to achieve peace (Rav S. Lehrman).
BUT I WISH TO HEAR WHAT GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WILL SAY WHEN HE'LL PROCLAIM PEACE FOR HIS PEOPLE AND FOR HIS DEVOTED ONES, THAT THEY NOT BECOME A FOLLY AGAIN... (When) LOVING-KINDNESS AND TRUTH HAVE MET TOGETHER, (then) RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE HAVE KISSED EACH OTHER. WHEN TRUTH WILL GROW FROM THE EARTH (after it's been cast down to earth!-- Gen. Raba 8:5), RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL BE REFLECTED IN HEAVEN (Ps. 85:9ff). Love practices kindness, while truth hurts-- today. He who practices kindness is esteemed; he who champions truth is shunned and persecuted. Men wish to avoid God's one incorruptible truth, impeding salvation. When truth and kindness meet voluntarily, when men realize that the highest salvational kindness is to spread truth-- tzedek, righteousness will then prevail; the entire creation will be in order; God will then reappear (M. Hirsch).
The 3 Priestly Blessings follow laws of the Nazarite and the Wayward Wife. Blessings #1 & #2, material and spiritual, are to be merged into #3, the higher blessing of peace and harmony-- as opposed to the 2 preceding realms, extremes of body and soul, Sota and Nazir, sex as a snack and Prohibition.
When Moshe finished the tabernacle, the tribal princes brought 12 oxen and 6 wagons, used by Gershon and Merari (Kehot Levites used their shoulders). The princes' detailed elaborate daily gifts to the altar are set forth individually, though identical. The same physical act can be vastly different in the doer's intent and understanding; we all pray the same words, but with what great variation of thought and feeling (Baker). The Torah may want to evoke a mood here-- prominent creative people want their celebrations and donations to be unique. When we read at length how great princes all brought the same offering, we experience their negating their individual personalities to carry out God's Will. The Torah does, however, give each prince a separate day for his gift-- celebrations shouldn't be mixed. After all the princes' gifts, God speaks from the tent, but only to Moshe.
C. THE HAFTARA, Judges 13 God relieves Israel of the Philistines, and Mr. and Mrs. Manoach of infertility, as angel Pele announces Shimshon's birth; he's to be a lifelong nazir (cf. Shmuel & Ms. Yiftach) from conception. The angel appears at first only to Mrs. Manoach, denoting her superior prophecy. Manoach is unaware he's speaking to an angel; Rav Nachman (husband of feminist talmudist Yalta) criticizes him for "going after his wife" due to his ignorance (v.11; Ber. 61a; cf. B.M. 59a); the angel ascends to heaven in the fire of their sacrifice AND DOESN'T RETURN-- then he knows it'a an angel! A mere wonder rabbi would have returned for a donation! After Shmuel reared prophets, no more lifelong nazarites appear in the Bible (Yavetz).
D. SELECTED ISSUES
THE NAZARITE-- SAINT OR SINNER?
The Torah describes Nazaritism in detail, adding: "the crown of his Lord is on his head" (6:7- he's master of his own passions-- Ibn Ezra); "he's holy to God" (6:8). So Amos proclaims (2:11-12): AND I RAISED UP... OF YOUR YOUNG MEN FOR NAZARITES... BUT YOU GAVE THE NAZARITES WINE TO DRINK (see Rashi below). Yet, to be or not to be a nazarite, or even an ascetic, is indeed a ?, debated by sages, thruout the ages. It may be an unresolvable paradox, built into the universe-- cf. modern physics. R. Elazer concludes that he's a saint: "Since this Nazirite, who only denied himself one thing (wine), is called HOLY (6:5), he who afflicts himself, abstaining from all, is surely so!" R. Eliezer Hakapper, R. Yehudah's son, concludes that he's a sinner-- he brings a sin offering for "SINNING REGARDING THE PERSON" (6:11)-- "Regarding which person has he sinned?-- himself, imposing the torment of wine deprivation; if he denies himself everything, he's surely a sinner!". The Talmud asks: Verse 6:11 refers to one who BROKE his vow, by contact with the dead-- BREAKING the vow is the sin, as R. Elazer! R. Eliezer should have argued from that sin offering which EVERY nazir brings, after SUCCESSFULLY completing his pledged period (6:14,16). But he teaches that EVEN if a Nazir accidently becomes unclean, he's sinned by lengthening his Nazarite period; he should have anticipated this possibility when he made the vow. So one who wantonly murders Arabs should anticipate that their brethren will kill Jews in return, and is thus ultimately also an accessory to the murder of Jews.
R. Elazer explains that the sin offering of a successful nazir refers to one who does it with an improper or broken spirit-- yet the Torah doesn't differentiate; perhaps even he who "completes" his attempt at perfection brings a sin offering to show how imperfect he still is. Pietism, e.g. pietistic clothing, can engender pride. R. Elazer doesn't explain why an unsuccessful nazir should bring a SIN offering; perhaps a truly righteous person will be protected by God from even inadvertant sin, a common talmudic notion; perhaps a no-fault sin offering relieves feelings of guilt & inadequacy, upon failure to achieve a high goal (cf. the sin offerings of the new mother, the new cohen, and the red heifer-- see our TAZRIA study, end of D).
Per Shmuel, as R. Eliezer, anyone constantly fasting is a sinner (guilt- ridden?); a nazir's called "holy", "separate", only as he let his hair grow long, not from depriving himself of wine-- cf. those who equate return to Judaism with cutting long hair. In "The Strawberry Statement", short hair is attributed to attempts to depersonalize soldiers in WWI, making them cogs in a large machine (cf. Samson, Bnei Brak). R. Eliezer's dad, R. Yehudah, Rebbe, was known for living ascetically, despite his great wealth (as the Razhiner Rebbe). Anyone, especially a scholar, who's depressed or broken by asceticism, is forbidden to do so, even per R. Elazar-- his body, a holy vessel, must not be abused; also, he won't be able to do much good (Taanit 11a, Nazir 19a; cf. Torah vigils on Shavuot).
THIS ETERNAL DEBATE continues among Amoraim (ibid) and Rishonim; Rashi popularized R. Eliezer's positive attitude toward bodily pleasure (but see Klie Yakar), while Ramban and Ibn Ezra upheld R. Elazar's ascetic goal. Per Rashi, the sin offering is for becoming a nazir, per Ramban for limiting it, returning to the mundane world of pleasure! A lifelong nazarite, e.g. Shmuel, never brings a sin offering, and may not have rules of defilement-- Rashi might say that he never stops sinning, in order to be able to bring an offering! Each scholar has a general outlook on Torah and life, interpreting sources and life accordingly, wherever possible (unlike the Talmud, which brings all views). Vintner Rashi, unlike Dr. Ramban, used to the body's ills, believed that holy enjoyment sanctified the body; as T.Y., he views "NAZARITES" in Amos 2 as a metaphor for devout Torah scholars, who separated themselves from contemporary debauchery; the corrupt populace gave them wine to drink whenever they would teach Torah, rendering their decisions invalid! (but why did the scholars accept and drink it?).
Rashi confronts asceticism in Avot 6:4: "This is the way of Torah-- bread with salt you shall eat... and a life of affliction you shall live"; he explains that you should CONTINUE to study Torah, even IF you HAVE to live in such poverty, not that asceticism is a desideratum. But, per Ramchal, it means what it says-- live an ascetic life. Rashi's problem is the text, the Ramchal's that holy Jews are not ascetic, tho not passionate pleasure seekers; indeed one must give an account before God for every legitimate pleasure which he saw and didn't take, just as he does for illegitimate pleasure (Jer. Kid. end IV). One's not to SEEK pleasure- but if you SAW it, if it came your way, God very well may want you to have it.
Per Rav Yaakov Emden, asceticism IS the ideal, as Avot 6:4 implies; yet the implementation of ANY ideal can be counter-productive. Self-denial is FORBIDDEN if one will be lethargic, sick or depressed, due to her constitution, temperment, or habit-- its PURPOSE is to learn Torah well (cf. aliya, delaying marriage to learn). Rabbi Dr. Ramban dealt with the body's ills. True to his ascetic world view, he can't understand why Yiftach's daughter would mourn if she's to be a nun (Judges 11:30ff)-- it's good to leave the body and cleave to God! (on Lev. 27:28ff; see our B'chukosai study, end of "H".). Jerusalem's chief haredi Rav Kulitz objects to association of commentators' professions wih their views-- they're not "flesh and blood"! But Rav Soloveichik and others feel that great rabbis WERE very human-- one's life, God's audio-visual education, both influences and reflects his views, as does his Torah interpretation. Only "real people" can be models for ordinary mortals.
Per Rashi, being "Holy" (Lev. 19:2) means only separating oneself completely from prohibited sex, the basis of all sin; but Ramban equates holiness with separation even from permitted pleasure. Yet he defends Nadiv & Avihu for eating and drinking upon encountering Divinity-- so one makes a feast upon concluding a talmudic tractate (Ex. 23:11). Perhaps Ramban feels that one can retain holiness amidst physicality only in such a setting. Those who would not feast on other holidays did so on Shavuot, celebrating the giving of the Torah (i.e. the Decalogue-- see our Shavuot study; Pes. 68b). Ramah notes: "He SHALL BE holy" (6:5) implies that sinful Nazaritism can imbue a wild person with holy balance (from Village hippie to spaced out kabbalist!). Federbush warns that an ascetic may ignore the worldly needs of others (cf. families of "holy men"). See Jacobson's exposition of this issue in his A-1 Meditations on the Torah ($20 from TOP).
WINE-- TO DRINK OR NOT TO DRINK, THAT'S A ?. Solomon teaches: WINE'S A MOCKER, STRONG DRINK RIOTOUS... (Prov. 20:1). ...HE WHO LOVES WINE AND OIL SHALL NOT BE RICH (PROV. 21:17). His mother reprimands him: IT'S NOT FOR KINGS TO DRINK WINE... LEST THEY DRINK AND FORGET... GIVE STRONG DRINK TO HE WHO'S ABOUT TO PERISH, AND WINE TO THE BITTER SOUL. LET HIM DRINK AND FORGET... (Prov. 31:1-9). So R. Hanin (or Yochanan) proclaimed: "Wine was created solely to comfort mourners and reward the wicked!" R. Chiya notes: WINE (yayin,= 70) ENTERS, WISE COUNSEL (or SECRET, sod,= 70) DEPARTS (or EMERGES). So Purim is even harder than Yom Kipurim! It's a far greater affliction to starve our minds by drinking, than to starve our bodies (Rebbe Bunam)! Rav Soloveichik equated song and dance with alcohol-- such external stimuli substitute for a genuine Jewish "high", a natural outcome of learning and understanding of God's Torah and world-- cf. farbrangin.
"The reason for Nazaritism is very clear-- ...wine has caused the ruin of ancients and moderns... BUT THESE ALSO HAVE ERRED THRU WINE... THEY'RE CONFUSED BY WINE... THEY STUMBLE IN JUDGMENT (Is. 28:7)... For whoever avoids it is called holy, ranked as a high priest... because he abstains from drink" (Rambam, Guide 3:48; in 3:49, his views on sex are similar). In The Code of his younger years, however, he writes, as Rashi, that one who completely deprives himself of meat (cf. vegetarians), wine, a decent home and respectable clothes is a sinner, as the Nazarite! Yet one must eat for health, not just fun; health itself is to serve God. Rambam gives rules to insure good health (beware of fruit and sex!); he was chronically ill (see M.T. Daot 3-4, and Rambam's bitter letter to Yafet ben Eliyahu).
But R. Hanin b. Papa follows Shlomo's Dad, David, who writes: HE MAKES GROW... PLANTS FOR MAN'S WORK, TO BRING FORTH BREAD FROM THE EARTH (1st) AND WINE , WHICH GLADDENS MAN'S HEART (Ps. 104)-- "A person, in whose house wine is not poured like water, has not attained blessedness"-- Eruv. 65a. REASONABLE amounts of wine (not vodka!) drive away melancholy, sensitize the intellect, and even prepare the mind for prophecy (Radak). Wine, associated with sleep, also releases secrets of the conflicted soul. R. Huna b. R. Yehoshua said: "He who accustoms himself (it may not work at first) to new wine (tirosh, the Torah's blessing), even tho his heart is closed like a virgin, wine opens his eyes-- NEW WINE SHALL OPEN UP THE VIRGINS" (Zecharia 9:17; B.B. 12b). This may refer to repressed emotion; so the virgin represses sensuality, with subsequent elation once married-- cf. Ms. Yiftach. Wine may be desirable only on Shabbat and holidays, when the holier part of our secret dream life emerges. Recent studies suggests that red wine combats the effects of Frenchmen's overly rich eating.
East European peasants adored alcohol; so Western culture's greeting is: "What will you have to drink?". Jews, especially Torah scholars, were not absorbed with alcohol, except for some East European Chassidic groups-- "make a l'chayim!", "Have some vodka!". Rabbi Dov Shurin, however, stresses their lively enthusiastic positivism; alcohol-linked customs help these unlearned Jews to inspire themselves and others, with little drunkenness. As Emden above, Shurin claims that their behavior should be tolerated, tho not ideal. Yet they shouldn't urge others to drink, rather than think. So enthusiastic singing and dancing often drowns out thought in ecstatic circles. The Lubavitch Rebbe opposed the stress on alcohol at Chabad farbrangens, which are to be self-critical spiritual growth experiences. In any event, non-Jewish esteem of vodka, beer, and brandy shouldn't displace Biblical praise of wonderful Israeli wines.
JUDAISM, CONSUMER CONSUMPTION, AND IMMIGRANT ACCULTURATION interface in Adapting to Abundance-- Jewish Immigrants , Mass Consumption, and the Search for American Identity, by Andrew R. Heinze (part of Columbia University's History of Urban Life series). Early U.S. Jewish immigrants' consumerism was not just pleasure-seeking, but the one tangible way by which they could convince themselves and others of their successful absorption into American culture-- often so elusive in its less tangible aspects. Judaism's association of physical luxury and enjoyment with the highest spiritual values-- e.g. good food, drink, and clothing, and sleep and sex on Shabbat and holidays, and the luxurious expensive priest's clothing and furnishings of the Temple-- reinforced assimilation into American materialist culture, often using religion as an excuse-- e.g. the bar mitzva bash (see Goodbye Columbus) and the fancy new furniture for Pesach and Sukkot. But, gradually, buying elegant new clothes, "l'koved", in honor of, Rosh Hashana was transformed into Rosh Hashana, in honor of new clothes. Over-sated consumers lost even the joy of shabbat meals, traditionally framed by a sparse weekday diet. Louis Borgenicht wrote: "even at his wealthiest, my father lived in very much the same fashion as his tenth generation grandfather-- I have shifted my mode of living more in 50 years than my ancestors in a thousand".
The Levites are ALSO called God's "tzava", "hosts" or "army". Tho not drafted for the military, the Levites' holy function, implanting the Torah within Jewish hearts, is equally important-- it determines to what extent God will fight their battles. Levites must display at least the same enthusiasm, zeal, order, and discipline, as soldiers-- a lackadaisical yeshiva student is a traitor (Rav Shach). The Torah, however, restricts this role to the Levites (see our $1 bumper sticker: "Every Israeli Yeshiva student should serve in Israel's army and every Israeli soldier should study in a Yeshiva"). Perhaps Levites today should be trained to be effective Torah teachers in Tzahal.
ALONE TOGETHER: God is concerned that Gershonites will feel slighted by the choice of younger K'hot's progeny to carry the sacred vessels. Nazaritism may be a reaction to seeing the Sota (cf. religious reactions to tawdry Jerusalem Festival street theatre and the Archaos Circus and secular reactions to seemingly religious folks, who badger others for money at the Wall, selling their blessings, and who attack non-Orthodox groups praying there). A separate day, proper honor, is given to each identical princely offering, avoiding competition and resultant ill-feeling between them-- we must consider the effects of our conduct and achievement upon others. Man's not an island-- he lives in groups. So Rav Chaim Bravendar explains mutual responsibility (at least for public males)-- my mitzva's incomplete as long as another Jew has left it unperformed (a TOP video lecture). Alone, Man's a frail fragile helpless being; together, Mankind goes from strength to strength (cf. s.s., research teams). But--
GROUPINESS IS DANGEROUS: Evil nations substituted collective man, the State, for God Himself since the Tower of Babel. They ruin His universe and self- annihilate (cf. China, USSR). Mankind can't be a true source of strength-- TRUST NOT (even) IN PRINCES, IN THE SON OF MAN WHO LACKS (ultimate) SALVATION (Ps. 146). Rav M. Gafni stresses the need to first develop individuality, before merging it into group goals, e.g. Tzahal. John Steinbeck (THE LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ, XLVI) speculates that over-integration in human groups parallels a law in paleontology: excess armor or ornamentation are symptoms of decay and disappearance-- there's no CREATIVE unit, save the individual working alone. There are no collaborations in pure creativeness, a lonely and individual matter. Groups only correlate, investigate, and build. The process of integration destroys all tendencies toward improvisation; weighty tradition replaces thought and art. When one unit of such an overintegrated system is destroyed, there's no one to improvise alternative functioning, to save it (cf. computer system breakdowns). Indeed Man's prime emulation of God is to be a unique creative individual (Rav J. Soloveichik). John Hully shows that Nobel Prize winners in science overwhelmingly stem from Biblical culture-- Jews and Protestants, from free Western lands. Per Rav Y. Hadari, Rosh Chodesh celebrates constant renewal, human creativity, the essence of ancient and renewed Israel. Yet, when the Torah orders a GROUP CENSUS, it stresses that the head of each person counted be "LIFTED UP" (e.g. 4;22). How-to-do-it?--
THE JEWISH GROUP must enhance, not obliterate, the individual (vs. uniform clothing?). So the Torah repeats the names and families of Israel, as they begin nation-formation in Exodus (Hirsch). The Torah's national census is by families and fathers' houses (4:46), even by the "name", the individual identity, of each Jew (1:2)-- we're to realize and relish the uniqueness of each group member. All must count when counted. The Jewish army is enhanced in a unique non-replaceable way by the personality of each of its soldiers. When one falls, there is not just one less soldier-- the great symphony, the magnificent painting, has lost an indispensable element. So my son and his comrades remember Boaz Rotenberg, who fell while in sacrificial training for an elite unit of Tzahal. Our children are warned from infancy to forego the pleasures of play and sport, if the slightest danger exists; yet, when they reach young manhood, they expose themselves to death, to protect their people and sacred Israel. Every good Jew should pray for Israel's soldiers, victory and peace (cf. haredi Yeshivot and minyanim).
Individuality and creativity demand EXPRESSION, to make their mark upon the world; when one's group expresses his unique contribution, his individuality is strengthened-- IF I AM NOT FOR MYSELF, WHO WILL BE FOR ME; WHEN I'M BUT FOR MYSELF, WHAT AM I? (Hillel, Avot 1:14). No prince alone can build a tabernacle, yet each must have his own unique day and his own special meaning and experience of identical acts. Each member must express his own identity in such fashion as to contribute a unique tile to the group mosaic. Being close to others can also bring out latent aspects of my potential uniqueness, yet unknown to me-- "THE MORE ADVICE, THE MORE WISDOM" (Hillel, Avot 2:8), ...A HELP MATE OPPOSITE HIM (Gen. 2:18). One developed in a skewed or neurotic fashion often marries another with the opposite exaggeration-- e.g. extreme introverts wed extreme extroverts. Each supplements the other's lacks; D. Viscott (FEEL FREE) calls this "neurotic object choice"; it can engender a lifelong union, as long as neither party self-corrects-- such love is contingent upon getting a "psychological something" from the other (see Avot 5:20).
INDIVIDUALITY AND GROUP COHESIVENESS are both nourished in Judaism-- individual creative free thought, playfulness, and feelings are preserved in our response to, our understanding of, tradition-- the Agadic process; cohesiveness and group impact is ensured by Minyan, yeshivot, and accepted objective behaviorial laws-- the Halachic process. Ignoring either realm will produce lopsided folks and a lopsided folk. The U.S. may be overly individualistic, Israel overly collectivist. Americans excel in creativity and imagination, Israelis in self-disciplined group functioning, often against massive odds.
THE ART OF THE GREENING OF THE JEWS: Highly heretical, spiritual, imaginative and entertaining U.S. Prof. Art Green founded Somerville's Woodstockian Chavurat Shalom in the 60's; some of his early free spirits asked me to teach them Chumash and Rashi, which was not avant-garde enough for Green's group-- my contact man was newly religious Yitzchak Samet, then of MIT, now part and parcel of Lakewood's misnagdic yeshiva world. Art recently spoke at Yaakov's Olam Hakatan, an interesting new universalist spiritual book shop, at 52 Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. Concerned about Jewish revival and renewal, he claims that our ancient traditions cannot satisfy modern man, that Jewish renewal will only arise via a new halacha, made by human beings to satisfy their own needs, without the myriads of exact detailed behavioral laws of traditional halacha. Being non-Orthodox, Green does not believe in the Divine dictation of the Torah, nor in the Divine authority of halacha; he also denies God's unique covenant with the Jews-- when I mentioned the talmudic metaphor of God donning tefillin, he responded that He dons a crucifix too!
I quoted Rav J. Soloveichik's general critique of such "spirituality", of "turning aside after your hearts and your eyes", of being led by murky gooey subjective inner states, with no objective criteria for truth and correct behavior-- if anyone knows anything about this world, he sees, via increasingly holistic and intricate science, that this world indeed operates on objective highly abstract scientific principles, which are reduced to the most infinitely small precise details; if the same God Who created our Universe dictated our Torah, we'd expect that much, perhaps the greater part, of it would also consist of abstract principles and precise details, i.e. halacha. Unfortunately, assimilated non-Orthodox Jews have adopted non-Jewish criteria of validity for religious experience-- subjective and asthetic, rather than objective, detailed and scientific. Also, Green's radical theology will do little to arouse Jewish commitment and involvement-- if the Torah is God's Will, the essence and source of redemption of the universe, its study and practice, Judaism, is worth a lot of sacrifice and is a worthy life mission; but, if one, God forbid, adopts Green's outlook, that the Torah is a composite human product of a bunch of our ancient ancestors, heavily influenced by surrounding pagan cultures, why make such a fuss about preserving Jewish culture and spirituality?
Jeff Seidel and other Orthodox activists "work the Wall" day and night to ensure that visiting young reform, reconstructionist and conservative Jewish youth have meaningful Jewish experiences in Israel; Where are their own Israeli rabbis and rabbits?-- back home, relaxed, not really worried all that much about their youth's Jewishness-- it's only a culture, often only a job. True, as Green says, most modern Jews are far from traditional Judaism-- but they can and do return to their eternal roots; we have to educate them, translating, not abandoning or changing, our eternally valid Divine tradition into modern language and concepts-- I still perform n'tillat yadayim, abolution of the hands, as did Jews of every age; but I stress its deep symbolic messages, expressed in action, rather than any alleged medieval magical effects.
Green does claims that, like all other folks, we have a unique spiritual history and tradition, of value to mankind-- but does that stop anyone from intermarriage? Does that make Judaism their essence? A wise, tho non-Orthodox, investor in Jewish continuity will probably get much more for his money by donating it to modern Orthodox outreach institutions, e.g. Isralight, Machon Meir, NCSY and TOP, than by giving it to non-Orthodox institutions; at the very least, those who believe that the Torah is God's Word, and spend their lives trying to understand it, produce many more Jewish kids (who are likely to stay Jewish) than their assimilated unnatural Western counterparts-- Western Jews, aping Western non-Jews, separate sex from nature, from procreation; then they make a fetish out of health foods and exercise, to appear natural in their own eyes and those of society. I was, however, impressed by Green's stress on moral social action-- e.g. overcoming poverty, ignorance and disease-- as a prerequisite for creating a more loving and spiritual world; I also agree that beautiful spiritual truth can be found among many religions and cultures, but without abandoning Jewish Divine tradition, itself the source that every human being is created in the Lord's Image; but Judaism equally insists that the Jews are chosen for a special covenant, to be a universal model, God's "firstborn", "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:6), to redeem the world from Israel. We believe that non-Jews have valuable wisdom, but not Torah, the eternal Divine Code, the world's factory authorized instruction manual-- No, Virginia, there's no Santa CLaus-- God does not wear a crucifix!! (but He does send great spiritual teachers to all His children, who will also come up to Jerusalem and ask Yaakov to teach them his and His ways-- Isaiah 2).
* Rav Hirsch sees our portion as reflecting the 3 spheres of Jewish nationhood-- the camps of Israel, the Levites, and God's Presence; specified ritually unclean persons are removed from each camp (5:1-4), corresponding to 3 life situations (5:5ff). He who cheats the convert, a crime against society, is as one afflicted with tzara'at for anti-social behavior; he must leave all society*, the 3 camps. The faithless wife parallels the zav, afflicted by sexual impurity; both destroy, and must leave, the more intimate group. She's separated from her husband and the zav from the 2 holiest camps. Finally, one soul-shocked by intimate contact with death must rebuild himself; he temporarily leaves the innermost camp, corresponding to the sanctum sanctorum of his soul. So the nazir, trying to achieve personal sanctity, must guard himself against contact with the dead.
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