Parashah#35: Naso (Take) B’midbar (Numbers) 4:21-7:89

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue

Parashah 35: Naso (Take) B’Midbar (Numbers) 4:21-7:89
Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 13:2-25
B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan 7:53-8:11

The focus on the parashah this year is Num. Chapter 5. This passage describes the process that will establish the innocence of a woman wrongly accused of adultery by her husband, or guilt. This is the only halachic process in the Torah that depends on a supernatural intervention. The Sages tell us that this process was used as long as the people were G-d fearing and G-d chose to remain in their midst. The process became ineffectual and was discontinued by the Sanhedrin during the second temple era. The underlying concept and teaching point of this process was to punish those who committed adultery and provide a way of uprooting immorality, and to foster trust between a man and wife. It is an undeniable truth known to psychologists that once a husband develops a suspicion of his wife, he will not trust her no matter what the courts may rule. Legal decisions do not guarantee a change of heart. Only G-d’s judgement would be convincing. This chapter may not seem relevant to the previous passage describing giving gifts to the Kohen. However, it is intricately linked. The teaching is that of someone is too stingy (evil-eyed) to give the Kohen what is due him, he will be forced to come to the Kohen to carry out the process of this passage. Relating this to the B’rit Chadashah, we are told in Luke 8:16 “No one who has a lit lamp covers it with a bowl or puts it under a bed; no, he puts it on a stand; so that those coming in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nothing covered up that will not be known and come out into the open. Pay attention, then, to how you hear! For anyone who has something will be given more; but from anyone who has nothing, even what he seems to have will be taken away.” In Hebrews 4:13 we read “Before G-d, nothing created is hidden, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” We need to internalize this truth and temper our thoughts, words, and deeds by it. We need to learn and practice control over our animal souls. For example, do we give so others can see how benevolent we think we are? Do we ask questions of others to challenge them or in an attempt build ourselves up in the eyes of others? Do we suffer from what I call the “Goldilocks Syndrome” whereby we shop for answers to questions to find the person who will answer it “just right” to fit our personal biases and agendas? How about “doctor shopping?” Let us examine ourselves before we stand before HaShem with our hair unbound to face His judgement.
The process in our parashah goes something like this:
In this narrative, we know there was an opportunity for the man and his wife to have been separated for a sufficient amount of time for adultery to have taken place. The women knew as we do today that we are not to isolate ourselves with a man or woman who is married for the very reason that suspicion will usually occur. There were no witnesses to accuse her but the husband developed a sense of jealousy. This is all it took.
The husband brought a meal-offering on behalf of his wife. Rather than the normal offering that is intended to bring mercy and forgiveness, this one is a reminder of the sin she is accused of committing. The husband brings the offering because it would not be proper to require a woman to bring and offering that will evoke G-d’s anger against her. The composition of the offering is also symbolic; the coarse barley flour symbolizing her coarse behavior (if guilty); and the barley which is usually used for animal feed, representing her animalistic behavior. It is neither mixed with oil or frankincense like other meal offerings. It is an offering of jealousy which in and of itself is bitter and not consistent with true love.
Considering the gravity of the situation, attempts are made to induce the woman to confess if she were guilty, although she would not be punished for adultery by the community for lack of witnesses. Remember, G-d would still reserve judgement in the end based on this woman’s life and future choices. If the woman was innocent, she would choose to undergo the process that would vindicate her.
The water would have been drawn from the Temple Lavar. Why this vessel? Recall that in Exodus 38:8 “He made the basin of bronze with its base of bronze from the mirrors of the women serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Therefore, water drawn from the Lavar was fitting to establish the guilt or innocence of the woman. The water was not bitter initially. It would turn bitter after the woman drank it if she were guilty and cause her female organs to shrivel and her abdomen to swell. According to Rashi, the earthenware vessel symbolized the goblet into which she would have poured wine for her lover, and according to Ramban, the dust from the tabernacle would have forced the woman to think that she would die and return to the earth if she were guilty. I provided these interpretations for your consideration but do not necessarily agree with them. The woman’s hair is unbound because it is disgraceful for a married woman to be seen without her head covered. Another reason for this is that unbinding the hair leaves her head uncovered, representing removal of all barriers between her and HaShem; no separation; open and vulnerable to His judgement.
The Kohen imposes an oath that includes aspects of compliance and non-compliance as a requirement of an oath. However, before the oath is described in the Torah, the Kohen makes the woman swear “by saying to her, ‘if no man has gone to bed with you, if you have not gone astray to make yourself unclean while under your husband’s authority, then be free from this water of embitterment and cursing. But if you have In fact gone astray while under your husband’s authority and become unclean, because some man other than your husband has gone to bed with you…”(vv.19-20). This statement is made prior to administering the oath because in capital cases, a court must always begin with arguments for acquittal.
On a scroll of parchment the Kohen writes the words contained in vv. 19-22. The Sages inform us that G-d’s Name is written in its entirety. It is usually forbidden to erase the Name of G-d but G-d commanded that His Name be erased in order to bring peace between husband and wife. I cannot confirm G-d’s Name was written on the parchment but I am including this information for your consideration and continued research.
The woman drinks the water, the Kohen removes the grain offering of jealousy from her hand, waves it before Adonai, and brings it to the altar to offer it up in smoke. If the woman is guilty, she will be rendered barren and will be the object of scorn in the community. If she is innocent, she will be blessed with children.
The obvious question that follows is, What happens if a wife becomes jealous?
The Sages interpret verse 34 that says in part “The man will be innocent of iniquity…”, as meaning that the process of administering the bitter waters is effective only if the husband is pure. However, if he was immoral, the waters would not affect his wife. Only a morally pure husband can properly value the marriage bond and invoke a miracle to punish an adulteress (Ramban). This interpretation does not answer the question about a wife’s jealousy.

This test has many dimensions to it. It has little to do with the guilt or innocence of the woman. On a deeper level, this narrative symbolizes the love of G-d for His wife (Judah), and the unmerited kindness (chesed) of Yahshua for His future bride (Israel, who are all true believers as defined by Yahshua himself in the seven-fold witness in Revelation). However, this is an extensive subject that is beyond the scope of this teaching.
In order for the test to apply, the woman must become foolish by actions such as flirting and isolating herself with another man. Today, it is even improper for a woman to sit alone with a married man at a business lunch, for example. The opportunity may present itself in a number of ways. More importantly, the appearance that something is amiss is enough to set the mouths of people in full speed. Although people may have no reason to suspect any wrongdoing, someone will tell the husband. By default, you can rest assured there will be a personal agenda attached to whatever the person tells the husband!
The time of causing suspicion must be followed by a period of sufficient length of time where the two were isolated together and had opportunity for adultery (Rashi). If the husband is suspicious, the test is a method of being reconciled. If the community is suspicious, the husband may not have relations with her until she is cleared. The process for addressing a jealous husband’s concerns are at least three-fold:
The first effect of the law is that it is a deterrent. And apparently an effective one since part of the law is that a woman so condemned would become a curse. There is no mention in the Torah of this ever being carried out or of a woman being convicted through it so it must have been a very effective deterrent.
The second effect is that innocent women are not put away because of libelous suspicions of the community or simple jealousies of the husband.
The third effect is that it caused a jealous husband to reconsider his jealousy. If she had really been unfaithful, she would be rendered barren and a curse would fall upon her. He had to consider if he really wanted to put her through this humiliation or to show her mercy and forgiveness, even as Yahshua grants us mercy and forgiveness.
So, why is there no test for a man suspected of adultery? The answer is that a woman could not divorce her husband even if he was unfaithful, nor could she have him put to death. This law, rather than being sexist as some may think, recognizes a fundamentally asymmetrical aspect of human existence. In a society like ancient Israel, and even today, there is no doubt as to the maternity of a child. In some sects of Judaism today, you are not considered Jewish unless your mother was Jewish. This was not always the case. Whether someone is pregnant with their own child or is a surrogate mother for someone else’s child, there is no doubt about the source of the birth. There is, however, the potential for doubt concerning the paternity of a child. Given the obligations of fathers to support their children, inherit family wealth and position within the family, clan, or tribe, which was extremely important in the life of the Israelites then and now, the need to ensure that the husband is the father of the children in his household has long been considered a matter of extreme importance in family law. English law going back centuries considers the husband to automatically be the legal father responsible for child support in case of divorce, but this law may be in jeopardy due to the widespread nature of DNA testing which allows jealous husbands to test the paternity of their children in the absence of a trial by ordeal. Eventually, the common law will be corrected to protect the interests of husbands with adulterous wives, thereby reducing a major loophole in the current legal doctrine in America.
With this information, we may now identify at least two reasons the Law of addressing the jealousy of a husband is not sexist. The first reason is because it is the paternity of children, and not the maternity, that is in doubt in the case of infidelity.
The second reason is not as obvious. In the “eyes” of G-d indicated by His own words, G-d compares Judah-Israel, male or female, as His wife of whom He is extremely jealous as her husband/G-d (Ex. 20:5) who abhors idolatry because it amounts to unfaithfulness to the covenantal vow of obedience. Once we accept Yahshua’s sacrifice, reconcile ourselves to G-d through it, and accept the marriage contract/ketubah/Commandments of G-d, continued sin and/or unfaithfulness is in effect idolatry (placing someone or something before our service to G-d) and adultery (having a relationship with another deceiving the spouse). Since we are all in the position of the potentially unfaithful wife who has concealed her treachery, the trial by ordeal is a reminder that we are all accountable to G-d, who is faithful to us and therefore not under the curse of disobeying His own laws. Since both men and women are accountable to G-d and His commands, statutes, and rulings once we accept Yahshua’s sacrifice and become reconciled to G-d through repentance, the law is not sexist because it applies to both men and women concerning their faithfulness to G-d’s laws as an outward sign of our love for Him (See John Chapter 14).
Haftarah: Shof’tim (Judges) 13:2-25
This is the story of G-d’s rescue of the people of Israel after a 40-year rule under the Philistines. Of course, this was not a straight-forward rescue. G-d works in mysterious ways. Man could never had predicted the use of Shimshon (Samson) in the way he was blessed and used by G-d, allowed to fall from grace with Delilah, and then redeemed through Samson’s self-nullification and repentance with his final mitzvoth being the destruction of more Philistines than he’d killed in his life. One lesson of many in this passage is that we must learn to trust G-d for our every need. Situations that may seem hopeless in our lives are in reality situations orchestrated or allowed by G-d to demonstrate His power and be glorified as the One True G-d. This is the whole point. We recited the Akdamus during Shavu’ot that contained several verses addressing this very point. Ezekiel 39:7 speaks against Magog in the context of the Gog/Magog war waged against Israel. We read in this passage, “I will also send fire against Magog and against those living securely in the coastlands; then they will know that I am Adonai. I will make my holy name known among my people Israel; I will not allow my holy name to be profaned any longer. Then the Goyim will know that I am Adonai, the Holy One of Israel. Yes, this is coming, and it will be done,’ says Adonai Elohim; ‘this is the day about which I have spoken.’”
B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan (John) 7:53-8:11
This passage takes us back to the issue of a woman who becomes impure by lying with another man. But before we address this, we must understand that the Torah teachers and the Pharisees were trying to trap Yahshua. Under Roman rule it was illegal for Jewish courts to enforce a death sentence, but that did not always succeed in preventing them (Acts 7:58-9). Furthermore the Torah states in Lev. 20:10, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, that is, with the wife of a fellow countryman, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” However there is a difference in what happened in this account and that of our parashah. In John 8:3 the woman was caught in the act of lying with a man. Just what happened to the man we are not told. Regardless, in the parashah, G-d established the test of purity for a woman whose husband was suspicious of her but had no proof that she was unfaithful. Num. 5:13 states “ if another man goes to bed with her without her husband’s knowledge, so that she becomes impure secretly, and there is no witness against her, and she was not caught in the act;…”In John, the accusers make her stand in the middle of the group (John 8:3). In Num. 5:15 the woman was to be taken to the Kohen with an offering for the husband’s jealousy. The woman was then taken to stand alone before Adonai. The Torah teachers and the Pharisees unknowingly placed the woman before YHVH/Yahshua, yet there was no husband present to condemn her of adultery. With no husband to condemn her, there was no reason to judge her (John 8:10-11). In verse 5 Moshe is cited as is the Torah for the prescribed punishment. Yahshua’s response showed four things: He was not against the Torah, He was merciful toward the woman, He opposed her sin (Ex. 20:14), and He could silence hecklers and put them to shame (compare Mt. 22:46). YHVH/Yahshua knows our motives before we ever act. We must examine ourselves carefully and often.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah Davis