Naso: Exclusion and Forgiveness–Hmm!

David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via, Creative Commons license.)
David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via, Creative Commons license.)

Wow! It is always so interesting to see how the passages from Torah somehow, some way, seem to reflect the times in which we are living. In looking at this week’s portion, Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) one can easily see some curious hints of current life. The portion begins with a call, reflective of previous portion Tazriah-Metzorah, to remove from the camp people who are seen as impure. “Remove male and female alike, put them outside the camp so that they do not defile the camp of those in whose midst I dwell” (5:3). Now the context here is removing people seen with skin eruptions, or discharges that could be seen, in Biblical times, as possible causes to spread disease. But, remove the literal aspect of the text and you have a glimpse into some of the verbiage of today’s world. What we fear, we must remove.
Now go to verse 7 which follows the instruction that if anyone commits a wrong against anyone, breaking faith with God, “he shall confess the wrong that he has done” and that person is called upon to make monetary restitution for the wrong that was done. In the Etz Hayim, the Torah commentary for the Conservative movement, there is a comment on the words “he shall confess” which reads: Hebrew “hitvadu”, the reflexive mode suggests that we must confess to ourselves the wrong that we have done rather than go through the motions of an expiation ritual while privately believeing we have done nothing wrong” (p. 794)
The message here is quite serious. When we know we have done something wrong, we need to first confront our own soul and self. There is a “confession” of a sort to our self. There may be an admission that we have done something wrong, hurt someone, fractured a relationship. That self awareness is a key first step and it needs to be sincere and private and not some “show” confession for public consumption, done without meaning.
Now, is it a coincidence that this passage of “hitvadu” comes right after a passage calling for exclusion of people whom engender fear? Again, once you get off the literal aspect of the text, you can begin to see some of the contemporary power of the text, the symbolic aspect of a message from Torah which can be seen as: be careful about stoking fear in a people because that act may have consequences and you may need to seek forgiveness for such actions. Regretting our actions, actions at the expense of others, is a life long enterprise. We all can look back on our lives and see moments that we excluded some one or some group because of a preconceived notion. That “hitvadu” is a key way to understand the need for self reflection. Before we can stand before God and seek forgiveness, says the tradition, we must frst seek forgiveness from those we have harmed. So important is this value, that we meet it again as a major theme of Yom KIppur.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address

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