Posted By The Stash

Three consecutive topics of this lengthy parasha, the Nazir and the Sotah, and the Birkat Cohanim (the Priestly blessing) apparently have no connection with each other despite a rabbinic dictum that there is a connection between consecutive passages. Let’s investigate. The Nazir is a person who takes a vow of abstention from alcoholic spirits and from socializing. They retire to the outskirts of the camp to meditate alone for a fixed period of time. On their return they bring two offerings, one of which is a sin offering, though the Torah does not specify their sin. The Sotah describes the ordeal of a woman suspected by her husband of adultery. She is made to drink a potion by the priest in front of the tabernacle. The key ingredient in this potion is a parchment upon which the name of G-d is written that is subsequently crumbled into the liquid.

Both these ceremonies share a key idea: there is a limit as to how far a person may stray from relating with others. The Nazir sincerely believes that quiet contemplation will lead to a religious experience, and well it may. But Judaism has been a social religion since its inception. The Nazir cannot simply leave behind hearth and home indefinitely even for so lofty a purpose as serving G-d. Remember that the 10 commandments mandate that interpersonal relationships are as holy and vital as those with the Divine. So, the Nazir’s term of abstinence is limited, and they bring a sin offering, according to many commentators, because they arrogantly believed that G-d could only be found away from “the maddening crowd”.

Similarly the Sotah, a woman put through a terrible ordeal by her husband because he is jealously suspicious of her marital fidelity. The ceremony, says Isaac Arama, metaphorically means that G-d’s name—G-d’s presence—is erased in order to create the potion that will prove the woman’s innocence. Indeed, Yohanan b. Zakkai terminated this ceremony at the first opportunity—immediately after the destruction of the Temple, on the basis of the grief it caused in marital relationships. Here again, what generally proved to be a husband’s unfounded suspicion upset a peaceful marital relationship that is one of the foundations of Jewish life. His consequence: he cannot ever divorce the woman who is found innocent, and must somehow rebuild the relationship.

And that is why the Birkat Cohanim, with its promise of Shalom—making whole—creating Peace—immediately follows the accounts of the Nazir and Sotah. Shalom is one of G-d’s name, and bringing peace between people is a commandment. Both the Nazir and Sotah test the limits of peace in the community and family. The Cohanim thus bless the entire community—“so shall you bless the People of Israel”—and the last lingering word of their blessing is “Shalom”.

All of us know that from time to time, the peace of our homes is challenged. We know the pain of arguments, of harsh words flung back and forth, of going to bed sad, or waking up feeling anxious. Many arguments are based on love; sometimes two people who care deeply for each other have very different views of how to handle a situation, and in their passion, clash over these methods. That’s fine because they are still shalem, in synch with each other. The Cohanim offer us a blessing for peace against those occasions when true anger, hate, rebelliousness, or jealousy fuel bitter domestic dissension. This parasha teaches that unless the parties seek conciliation, they will pass beyond the pale of shared values, and their peace will never come. We pray that we will always know when to stop disagreeing with those we love.

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