You can find Parashat Naso in the Book of Numbers 4:21 and the parashah ends at 7:89. It is a section dealing with unique personalities. For example, the parashah is the only place in Jewish law where there is a trial by ordeal. This trial-by-ordeal centers around the theme of the woman who is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband.
Chapter 6 touches on another unique institution, that of person who chooses to live a life stricter than that which the law demands. This person is called in Hebrew a “nazir” and the word is often translated into English as Nazarite. (Note: “Nazir” has nothing to do with the city of Nazareth, we spell and pronounce the two words differently in Hebrew, Nazir is from the root “n-z-r” meaning “to vow”; the city of Natzeret (Nazareth in English) is derived from the verb “n-ts-r” meaning to guard.
According to chapter 6 of the Book of Numbers, a nazir is a person who goes beyond the law and chooses (vows) to be holier than the law demands. One might expect that such a person is praised in the text, but that is not the case. In fact, in an indirect way, the text criticizes the nazir by stating in 6:12 that the nazir is to perform a sin offering (chataah: meaning a willful sin). How come? Why would the nazir need to give restitution for breaking no laws? Is it possible that this is a text against extremism and as such the text is not necessarily pleased by the nazir’s actions?
Might the text be suggesting that life is best lived when we take the blessings of G-d and balance them with the pleasures of this world?
Perhaps it is this same extremism that acts as the reason that the rabbis changed the text’s emphasis from that of the unfaithful wife to that of the husband who has lost faith in his wife due to jealousy. To be jealous is to claim ownership of another human being, to add a measure of control to that of self-centeredness. In that sense, this first “rebellion in the desert” is another symbol of the wilderness of selfishness, of desire to control that Israel must cross if it is to reach the promised land of human dignity. It is for that reason that the rabbis argued that only G’d has the right to be jealous, for none of us own another.
Judaism has often been called the “religion of moderation.” It rejects extremes but instead seeks to honor G-d by creating balance in our lives and in our world. Judaism teaches that laws must be in harmony both with humanity’s biological and spiritual sides. To go to either extreme is not only unhealthy it is a rejection of G-d. How does this principle of moderation apply to our lives and our society? What do you think?
Youtubes of the week:
Three versions of Mi Chamochah? “Who is like You oh G-d” (first sung by the Children of Israel the Red Sea’s other side)
A Modern Traditional Format:
The Debbie Friedman Version:
A Sephardic (Judeo Spanish) Version: