This week we read from the Book of Numbers the section “Naso” that includes two interesting topics that appear one after the other. The first is that of a man who suspects his wife is unfaithful to him. “If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, the man shall then bring his wife to the priest”. The priest is supposed to perform a ritual, in fact a test, where he takes “holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water… and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose”. After swearing her, the woman need to drink the elixir and a miracle is supposed to occur. If she has sinned, “her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away”. On the other hand nothing is supposed to happen if she is innocent.
The immediately following topic deals with something completely different. “When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the Lord, 3 he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes… All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.” There is no requirement to make a Nazirite vow, but if one is made, than there is a price for that. It also includes, just like in the case of the suspected woman, having the hair be loose.
Both instances are not part of our religious lives today. There may be some that yearn for the return of implantation of these laws, and we have heard some ugly voices about that just this past week, however probably even the most extreme would not expect to have these and other laws and ordinances return to our modern lives today. It maybe that even in those ancient times the priest did not expect these to actually happen. It is quite likely the Moses and the priests new very well that mixing earth with water, holy as they may be, will not result in the effects described, even if the actual drinking of this elixir will be quite unpleasant. It may well be that these laws were put in place to simply show of preposterous these feelings really are and how they can bring a ridiculous outcome. The suspecting husband may find himself ridiculed after going through this whole process just to find out that he is in the wrong. It is likely that even if these ritual took place, after several unsuccessful attempt to prove cases the obsessive husbands will cease from attempting these rituals. Possibly making them think before making demands to the priests.
Still it is odd that immediately after these two rituals Aaron and his sons are ordered to bless the People of Israel, “The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.” Maybe it is odd but not that surprising. It is so easy to become jealous and get swept away with it. It may manifest itself as an obsession to a person, a topic or an idea we feel we should promote. We can then find ourselves making unnecessary promises, committing ourselves irrationally but none add light to our lives, they do not bring peace and seclude us from the society we live in. It is therefore that I think that this ancient blessing is calling upon us to refrain from those two examples, and many others, so that we can concentrate on what is really important. This way we will find ourselves blessed, in peace and enlightened.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a happy Shavuot.
Reuven Marko, 7 June 2019, 5 Sivan, 5779