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Parshat Naso 5759

Rabbi Ari Kahn
A glance at Parshat Naso reveals what is for the most part a clear
continuation from the previous section. The discussion of the role of
the tribe of Levi is continued. At the end of the Parsha, the offering
of the heads of the tribes brought during the consecration of the
Mishkan is enumerated. Both of these sections seem clear in their
connection with general theme which has been established, and
that which will be continued. In the middle of the Parsha there is a
digression which discusses a number of laws which seem
disconnected to the narrative of the Parsha.

These laws include the ordeal of the Sotah – the woman suspected
of immorality, the laws of the Nazir, and laws concerning vows. At
the end of this section is the priestly blessing, and then the Torah
continues with matters organically related to the book of Bamidbar.

The Talmud and Midrash explain the interrelationship between Sotah

and Nazir as follows:

Rabbi says, Why does the section of the Nazir adjoin that of
the suspected woman? To tell you that whoever witnesses a
suspected woman in her disgrace should withhold himself
from wine. (Sotah 2a)

You will find the section concerning the Nazir and the
unfaithful woman side by side. The Nazir vows not to drink
wine; whereupon God says to him: ‘Thou hast made a vow not
to drink wine in order to be removed from sin; then do not
say: "I will eat grapes and no sin will befall me." Since,
however, thou hast made a vow against wine, I will teach thee
not to sin before Me.’ He told Moshe, therefore, to teach Israel
the laws of the Nazir, as it says: When either man or woman
shall clearly utter a vow... he shall abstain from wine and
strong drink (Num. VI, 2, 3), he shall eat nothing that is made
of the grape-vine (ib. 4), and when he does this, he will be like
an angel. Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XVI:2

Another Midrash goes further and relates these two sections to the
priestly blessing:

Why is the section dealing with the Nazir placed after the one
dealing with the suspected wife, and the priestly benedictions
put after the section dealing with the Nazir? Because the
suspect wife would be told: ' Daughter! Much harm is caused
by wine. It should be a woman's habit to keep away from
wine, like a Nazir! ' They stipulated with her regarding all that
is mentioned in the section. If she was chaste and was cleared
and conceived seed, priests emanated from her, who blessed
Israel. Midrash Rabbah - Numbers X:25

While the Talmud and Midrash note the connection between the
laws of Nazir and Sotah, however the connection of these laws to
this section remain elusive.

The Torah introduces the law of Sotah by using the word Ma’al which
can be translated as trespass or embezzlement. The lesson which
the Torah is teaching, is that marriage is sacred, and the individual
who takes another mans wife, or the woman whom is intimate with
a man other than her husband is guilty of a trespass.

Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man’s

wife goes astray, and commits a trespass against him, (5:12.)
And when he has made her drink the water, then it shall come
to pass, that, if she is defiled, and has trespassed against her
husband, that the water that causes the curse shall enter into
her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh
shall fall; and the woman shall be a curse among her people.

Significantly this is not the first time in the Parsha this word is used:

Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman shall

commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the
Lord, and if that person is guilty. Then they shall confess their
sin which they have done; and he shall make restitution for
his trespass in full, and add to it its fifth part, and give it to
him against whom he has trespassed. (5:6.,7)

Here the Torah is referring to Me’ila taking something which is

sacred – from the Mishkan. To derive pleasure from an object which
is sacred is considered a trespass, and the punishment will be
forthcoming. This linguistic observation allows us make a thematic
connection between the woman who is guilty of a trespass in
relationship to her husband, and the individual who takes something
sacred from the Mishkan.

Obviously, with the newly completed Mishkan standing certain laws

need to be taught therefore the law of Me’ila is understood.
Apparently the Torah felt that once one type of trespass is taught,
the other type should be introduced as well. However, there may be
a deeper connection between these ideas.
The first time that a trespass took place was in the Garden of Eden,
man was told that from all the trees of the Garden he could eat, with
the exception of the Tree of Knowledge good and evil. Man however
was guilty of a trespass, and took that which was not his. Ironically a
number of Midrashim present strong sexual overtones, concerning
the interest of the serpent with Eve. According to this approach, the
serpent desired Eve, therefore plotted the downfall of man.
Numerous Talmudic and Zoharic passages speak of the Serpent of
having known Eve in a carnal manner.

Observe that at the creation of Adam the Holy One, blessed

be He, made him male and female together, female behind
and male before. Then He sawed them asunder and tricked
out the woman and brought her to Adam; and when they were
thus brought face to face, love was multiplied in the world and
they brought forth offspring, a thing that was not yet before.
But when Adam and his wife sinned and the serpent had
intercourse with Eve and injected into her his venom, she bore
Cain, whose image was in part derived from on high and in
part from the venom of the unclean and low side. Hence it
was the Serpent who brought death into the world, in that it
was his side that was the cause of it. (Zohar Shmot 231a, see
Shabbat 146a, Yevamot 103b Avoda Zara 22b)

This connection is intensified when considers a number of additional

associations. According to many authorities, the forbidden Tree of
Knowledge was a vine, and the fruit grapes.


What was the tree where of Adam and Eve ate? R. Meir said: It
was wheat, for when a person lacks knowledge people say, '
That man has never eaten bread of wheat. … R. Judah b. R.
Ila'i said: It was grapes, for it says, Their grapes are grapes of
gall, they have clusters of bitterness (Deut. XXXII, 32): those
clusters brought bitterness [i.e. sorrow] into the world. R.
Abba of Acco said: It was the ethrog … R. Jose said: They were
figs. (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XV:7)

This tradition of the tree being grapes is directly associated with the
Nazir and the Sotah:

And have not the understanding of a man-adam (Proverbs

30:2); that is, of Adam since owing to the wine which he drank
the world was cursed on his account. For R. Abin said: Eve
mingled wine for Adam and he drank; as it says, And when
the woman saw (wa-tere) that the tree was good for food
(Gen. III, 6), and it is written, Look not thou (al tere) upon the
wine when it is red, etc. (Prov. XXIII, 31). And I have not
learned wisdom (ib. XXX, 3)-from the wisdom of the Torah;
namely that in every instance where wine is mentioned in the
Torah it always leaves a mark. Have I the knowledge of holy
ones? (ib.): If one wishes to sanctify himself so as not to be
tripped up by whoredom he should separate himself from
wine, yet I disgraced myself by whoredom; ' Have I the
knowledge of holy ones ' For this reason the section about the
Nazir is written after that about the suspected wife. (Bamidbar
Rabbah 10:4)

The question here arises, why should the Nazir, in addition to

wine, be forbidden also grapes, seeing that the priest, who is
also enjoined to “drink no wine nor strong drink” (Lev. x, 9), is
yet permitted to eat grapes. There is, however, a recondite
idea involved in this. It is a known thing that the tree of
Adam's transgression was a vine, the fruits of which, wine,
strong drink and grapes, belong together to the side of the
left. Hence the Nazir has to keep altogether away from them.
(Zohar Bamidbar 127a)

Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the

sea’ (Prov. XXIII, 34). This applies to Noah who, in the ark, lay
twelve months in the midst of the water of the Flood, and
because he drank and became inebriated a disqualifying
blemish came upon him, for he was emasculated. ‘Or as he
that lieth upon the top of a mast’ (ib.). This applies to the
ancient Adam, who was the first of all mankind, and who,
through wine, received the penalty of death and caused the
pangs of death to be brought upon the world. ' They have
struck me, and I felt it not’ (ib. 35). Woe unto the adulterer
who does not learn wisdom from what has happened to those
who came before him! He saw what had happened to the
suspected wife as a result of wine and did not learn wisdom.
(Midrash Rabbah - Numbers X:3)

All of these sources are in agreement that the sin in Eden was
caused by the vine, therefore the law of the Nazir is clearly
understood. Excess wine can lead to immorality, when one faces
immorality the response should be abstention, in order to protect
oneself from the destructive forces unleashed.

The Mishna also makes this connection when describing the warning
which the woman receives prior to the ordeal.

They bring her up to the great court of justice which is in

Jerusalem, and [the judges] solemnly charge her in the same
way that they charge witnesses in capital cases and say to
her. “My daughter, wine does much, frivolity does much, youth
does much, bad neighbors do much. Do it for the sake of his
great name which is written in holiness so that it may not be
obliterated by the water.’(Sotah 7a)

The Mishna then describes a second aspect of the ordeal which the
Torah mentions:

And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and
loosen the hair of the woman’s head (5:18)

The Mishna says:

But if she says, ‘I am pure’, they bring her up to the east gate
which is by the entrance of Nicanor's gate where they give
suspected women the water to drink, purify women after
childbirth and purify lepers. A priest seizes her garments — if
they are rent they are rent, and if they become unstitched
they are unstitched until he uncovers her bosom, and he
undoes her hair.

The uncovering of the woman seems cruel and bizarre, the exposed
woman seems quite incongruent with the holiness associated with
the Temple. However, in Eden prior to man’s trespass, nakedness
was the order of the day. This suspected woman is either innocent –
like Adam and Eve, prior to their sin, or she is guilty and will soon
suffer the consequences of her rebellion.

There was one other uncovered aspect to the Mishkan, the Keruvim
which stood in the holy of Holies were uncovered. It was from there
that the word of G-d would emanate.

And when Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with
him, then he heard the voice of One speaking to him from the
covering that was upon the ark of Testimony, from between
the two keruvim; and he spoke to him. (7:89)

This verse is the final verse of this week’s Parsha, from between
these naked cherubs would the word of G-d set forth. A revelation of
sorts would come to Moshe from this Holy place. There is another
aspect to this verse, which is compelling. The place where the voice
emanated from is described as “Upon the Ark”. The Hebrew is
“May’al, {mem ain lamed} the same three letters which spelled the
word ma’al – trespass. Perhaps the word trespass implies taking
something from the Temple which is owned by heaven. Belonging to
above, exclusive to heaven.
When man sinned he caused there to be a chasm between heaven
and earth. Exile from the Garden was the result. Man’s original
trespass caused this situation.

The vine and her grapes and wine, are objects which should have
not been needed in this world. The Midrash teaches that the
purpose of wine was to comfort the mourner:

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine
unto the bitter in soul (Prov. XXXI, 6). R. Hanan said: Wine was
created in the world solely for the purpose of paying the
wicked their reward in this world, for they are lost to the next
world, and of comforting the mourners; hence it is written,
‘And wine unto the bitter in soul.’ From this the Sages derived
the rule that all those who were about to be executed by the
court should be given to drink wine in its undiluted state, so
that the criminal's mind should become confused; in fulfilment
of what it says, ' Give strong drink unto him that is ready to
perish.’ Let him drink, and forget his poverty (ib. 7). This is
said of the condemned man who is about to perish, namely
that he shall forget death, which is his grief. And his misery
(ib.)1’is said of him who is bitter in soul, namely whose sons
and daughters have died and who is bitter in soul; the wine
would make his heart glad so he would not remember his grief
any more. (Midrash Rabbah - Numbers X:4)

Had Adam and Eve not eaten from that tree, then its fruits would
not have been necessary, for there would have been no death nor
sorrow. We would still be in the Garden with the spirit of G-d
manifest. Sin would have been a possibility but not a reality. And the
voice of G-d would not have come exclusively to Moshe rather it
would have been available to all.

And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the
garden in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife hid
themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the
trees of the garden.

Man without sin would not have hidden himself from G-d, but would
have basked in the Glory. Celestial guards Keruvim would not have
had to be stationed at the gate to the Garden, nor would they have
had to be later stationed in the Mishkan.

Before the Mishkan is consecrated, and the offering of the heads of

the tribes presented, some unfinished business from time
immemorial is introduced. Man must learn what is his and what is
considered a trespass. In this world wine is needed, for the pain is
often great. The vine may be elevated and used in sacraments in
the Temple or in sanctification in the home. When the vine is
elevated it becomes holy – as in Kiddush. But the destructive power
of the vine must be noted.

Now when the Temple – the Mishkan will come into use we are
bidden not to make the same mistake man did at the dawn of
history. For if we are guilty of a trespass {meilah} we will be
unworthy to hear the word descend from above {may’al}.

[For more on the Cherubim see Teruma 5758 “Innocence lost and

Chag Sameach & Shabbat Shalom

© Copyright Rabbi Ari Kahn 1999