Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Naso.

The Hiding Wife

The prophets speak of the bond between G‑d and Israel as a marriage, and of Israel’s sins as a wife’s betrayal of her husband. Following this model, the sages of the Talmud see the sotah—the “wayward wife” discussed in our Parshah—as the prototype of all transgression against the divine will. The chassidic masters further investigate this prototype, finding in the particulars of the laws of sotah insight into the deeper significance of transgression.

A woman becomes a sotah through a two-stage process: The first stage occurs when a husband suspects his wife of an improper relationship with another man, and warns her not to be alone with that individual. If the woman disregards this warning and proceeds to seclude herself with the other man, she becomes a sotah, forbidden to live with her husband unless she agrees to be tested with the “bitter waters.” The woman is warned that if she has indeed committed adultery, the “bitter waters” will kill her; if, however, she has not actually been unfaithful, the drinking of these waters exonerates her completely.

As applied to the marriage between G‑d and His people:

Israel can never truly betray her G‑d; at worst she can be only like a sotah, a wife whose behavior gives the appearance of unfaithfulness and causes a temporary rift between herself and her husband. The process began at Mount Sinai, when G‑d, like a “jealous” husband, warned: “Do not have any other gods before Me.” But no matter how far the Jewish soul strays, she never truly gives herself to these “other gods”; she is only “hiding” from G‑d, indulging the illusion that there exists a dimension of reality that is outside of G‑d’s all-pervading presence and providence.
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Conformity Or Individuality?

The name of this week’s Torah reading, Naso means “Lift Up.” It is always read either immediately before or after the holiday of Shavuot, highlighting how the Torah is the medium that enables a person to elevate himself. It gives him the potential to rise above the framework of mortal understanding and to relate to G‑d on His terms.

There is, however, an implicit difficulty in such a concept: Generally, when we speak of transcending our personal identity, this usually connotes letting go of our individuality; conforming to a G‑d-given code of conduct and thus abdicating our individual wills and personalities.

This is not Judaism’s approach. Judaism teaches a person how to lift himself above: to conduct himself in a G‑dly manner, not by forgetting about who he is and what potentials he has been given, but by using those potentials for a G‑dly purpose.

This fusion of individual effort and divine direction is reflected in the concluding passages of this week’s Torah reading, which describe the sacrifices brought by the leaders of the tribes. Each leader brought an identical offering: the same number of animals, the same measure of incense, the silver bowls of the same size, and yet the account of the offerings is repeated verbatim for each leader.

Why repeat the entire passage twelve times?

The commentaries explain that the Torah is teaching us that the sacrifices of each leader were indeed different. Although they brought the same items, each one had a different intent. The deed was the same; the spiritual commitment differed from leader to leader.

These concepts apply to every one of us. We are all put on similar tefillin, light similar Shabbos candles etc. This does not, however, imply sheep-like conformity. Instead, it opens up a broad channel for each person to serve G‑d, but rather than doing it according to the whims of our fancy, we do it on G‑d’s terms.
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The relationship between a husband and wife on this earthly plane is understood as an analogy for the bond between G‑d and the Jewish people. Our relationship has had many phases. There were honeymoon moments — the Giving of the Torah, the entry into the Promised Land, the building of the Temple. At those times, our bond with G‑d was open and apparent.

And there have been times of difficulty, like the era of exile, when the entire relationship is called into question. Indeed, sometimes, it seems like G‑d has been testing our fidelity, like the sotah test mentioned above.

But exile is only temporary. Moreover, it’s purposeful, teaching us to look beyond the superficialities and concentrate on the fundamental dimensions of our relationship. During the good times, that isn’t necessary, but when the challenges arise, we should ask ourselves: What really is the nature of our bond with Him?

As we focus on this inner reality, the externals of exile will no longer be significant. And as they cease to be significant in our minds, they will cease to exist in actual fact and give way to the era of Mashiach.
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The Paradox of a Nazir

This week’s Torah reading contains the mitzvah of nizirus, taking nazirite vows. That subject presents a paradox. On one hand, regarding a nazirite, the Torah states: “The diadem of his G‑d is upon his head... He is holy unto G‑d” and he is equated with a prophet, as it is written: “And from your sons, I will raise [some] as prophets, and from your youths, [some] as nazirites.”

Nevertheless, the Torah also requires a nazirite to bring a sin-offering, stating that he has “sinned against his soul.” And our Sages speak critically of him, posing a rhetorical question: “Are not the things which the Torah has prohibited sufficient for you? [Why] must you add further prohibitions?”

Asceticism was disdained by the Sages. While other faiths place other-worldly hermits on pedestals, Judaism puts the emphasis on sanctifying the here and now, bringing holiness into the context of our ordinary experience. In that vein, our Sages taught that the verse: “Know Him in all your ways” is “A small passage upon which all the fundamentals of Torah depend.” For Judaism underscores the importance of knowing G‑d, not only in the synagogue or the house of study, but in every dimension of our everyday lives.

By denying himself wine, a nazirite takes an opposite tact. Wine is the symbol of happiness and pleasure, a substance that enables us to let loose and relax. But this happiness and relaxation should be a holy experience, carried out in a manner which brings a person closer to the divine. When a person abstains from wine, he is saying that he does not know how to sanctify such activity.

Why then is a nazirite praised? Because sometimes a person must admit his shortcomings. When a person looks himself in the mirror and realizes that he has certain tendencies that he is almost powerless to control, he is in fact taking the first step towards controlling them. So when a nazirite takes a vow to develop self-control and inner discipline, the Torah considers it admirable. When he does so because he thinks that G‑d’s ultimate intent is other-worldly abstinence, our Sages consider his conduct comparable to sin.
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Little Things Count Big

What is the concept of a “vow” in Jewish law? A person takes an ordinary object, and Torah tells him: since you are a Jew, G‑d gives you the power to connect that which is mundane with the sacred. The Nazirite, for example, makes a vow about a simple thing — to not cut his hair for thirty days. It demands no extra effort and costs no money; in fact, the average person goes thirty days without cutting their hair anyway. But since this person does one small action for the sake of G‑d, he acquires a distinct level of holiness: