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Torah Sparks

June 7, 2008 – 4 Sivan 5768

Annual: Numbers 4:21 – 7:89 (Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586)
Triennial: Numbers 4:21 – 5:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 791; Hertz p. 586)
Haftarah: Judges 13:2 – 25 (Etz Hayim, p. 813; Hertz p. 602)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God instructs Moses to take a census of the remaining Levitical houses, the Gershonites and the Merarites. The numbers of all the Levitical houses are reported and the duties of the latter two are described.

People who have contracted ritual impurity from specific sources must be placed outside the camp. A person who has wronged another by theft must confess his or her sin, make restitution and add a 20 percent fine, and bring an offering to complete the atonement.

When a man suspects his wife of adultery but has no evidence, he may bring her to a priest; he is also to bring a grain offering. The priest will then have the woman drink the “water of bitterness.” If she is guilty she will experience unpleasant physical effects when she drinks the water, but if she is innocent she will pass this trial unharmed.

God tells Moses that a person may make a vow to become a nazir, abstaining from wine and grape products, from cutting his hair, and from any contact with the dead. If a nazir is accidentally contaminated by a person suddenly dying near him, he must undergo the seven-day purification ritual, bring a penalty offering, and begin counting his term as a nazir again from the beginning. At the conclusion of the term of the nazir’s vow, he or she undergoes a completion ritual.

God tells Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons on how to perform the priestly blessing.

On the day that Moses completes setting up the Tabernacle and anointing and consecrating it and its furnishings, the chiefs of the tribes bring their offerings. Although they brought identical offerings, one each day for 12 days, each chief’s gift is described individually.

Bein Adam Lamakom (Sins Against God)

Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the Lord [elsewhere – any sin that men will commit to do a trespass against the Lord], and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged. (Bamidbar 5:6-7)

  1. Tradition teaches that this verse refers to robbery of a proselyte, for indeed, if one robs him he profanes the Name of his God in the eyes of the proselyte who came to find protection under His wings. Therefore he is called “one who trespasses against the sacred” and is required to bring a guilt offering, as is the law regarding all who trespass against Him. (Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno, 1475-1550, Italy)
  2. Maimonides in his Laws of Repentance states that if a person sins against another person, he has also sinned against God. This we see in will commit any sin that men will commit – if a person commits a sin against his fellow man, he will do a trespass against the Lord. (Rabbi Israel Joshua Trunk of Kutno, 1821-1893, Poland)
  3. Why is the commandment to confess, which is the foundation for repentance for every sin, mentioned specifically here, in regard to theft? The reason is because deep down every sin is one of theft: God gave life and power to man so that he should use them to do God’s will, and if he uses his life and powers to transgress God’s commandments, he is stealing from his Creator. That is why the Torah mentions the commandments of confession and repentance here. (Hidushei HaRIM [Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter, the Gerer Rabbi, 1799-1866, Poland])
  4. Rabbi Elazar of Bartota taught: Give Him what is His, for you and yours are His. This is also expressed by David: but all is from You, and it is Your gift that we have given to You. (I Chronicles 29:14) (Avot 3:8)

Sparks for Discussion

During the Yamim Nora’im (the High Holy Days), we speak of two categories of sins – bein adam laMakom (sins against God) and bein adam l’haveiro (sins against another person). How does a person sin against God? Are these sins limited to matters of ritual – eating a cheeseburger or going to the mall on Shabbat? Are they the things that “profane God’s name” by bringing disdain on Jews, Judaism, and therefore the God of Israel?

Hidushei HaRIM states that every misuse of the gifts God has given us is a sin against God. Do you think this insight is sufficient to counterbalance our tendency to rationalize our bad behavior? What “sins against God” do most of us commit every day?

Yours, Mine, and His

And each shall retain his sacred donations; each priest shall keep what is given to him [literally, what a man gives to the priest shall be his]. (Bamidbar 5:10)

  1. And each shall retain his sacred donations: Since there have been mentioned the gifts for the priests and Levites, I might infer that they can come and take them by force; Scripture states, and each shall retain his sacred donations. This tells that the owner shall determine who benefits from them. And an aggadic interpretation (Tanhuma, Re’eh): And each shall retain his sacred donations – He who withholds his tithes and does not give them, “he shall retain” the tithes; eventually his field will yield only one-tenth of what it was accustomed to yield. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the Rothschild dynasty, was once asked the size of his fortune. And each shall retain his sacred donations, he answered. All that he really considered to be his, he said, was the amount of money he had given to tzedakah. That was the only part of his fortune which he was sure he could never lose. All the rest could be lost, and he therefore could not consider it his. (Mi-Ginzeinu Ha-Atik)
  3. What bearing does this statement have on the portion dealing with robbery? Fools believe that the money which they have lying in their coffers is theirs, while the money which they give away to charity is theirs no longer. They therefore commit robbery, filling up their coffers with the money of others. Actually, quite the reverse is true. Only those possessions which are given away for sacred purposes (every man’s “sacred donations”), such as those which we give to priests and scholars of Torah (what a man gives to the priest), remain the property of the original owner (shall be his) forever. But those possessions that a man greedily amasses for himself, not to speak of the money of others, are not his at all. Such gains will not remain with him for longer than a fleeting moment. (Binah LeIttim [Rabbi Obadiah Figu, 1579-1647, Italy])
  4. The amount given [to tzedakah] – if it is within his means, he should give according to the needs of the poor. And if it is not within his means so much, he should give up to one-fifth of his wealth – this is the highest level of performing the mitzvah; one-tenth is the average; less than that is begrudging and stingy. And the one-fifth that [the sages] specified, in the first year it is taken from principal, in subsequent years from each year’s income. A person should not spend more than one-fifth so that he will not need to rely on others [for sustenance and support]. This applies during his life, but at the time of his death a person may giveas much as he wants to tzedakah. (Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 249:1)

Sparks for Discussion

The pshat, the contextual meaning, of the verse is according to the translation. When a person brings an offering that is to be shared with the priests, the donor can choose which priest to give it to. However, the Hebrew words lo yihyeh (shall be his) can be interpreted to mean “it shall belong to the chosen priest” or “it shall belong to the donor.” The commentators, therefore, focus on the benefits a donor derives from what he gives.

How do you feel about the statement that only what a person gives away to a worthy cause is truly his? If tzedakah is of such paramount importance, for both the poor and the donors, why do you think the Rabbis limited the amount that could be given to tzedakah to 20% of one’s wealth and income?

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