One of the subjects discussed in Parashat Naso is the case of the sota – a woman whose husband has reason to suspect her of infidelity. Under certain conditions, marital relations between the couple become forbidden until the wife is brought to the Beit Ha-mikdash, where a kohen performs a special ceremony whereby the woman’s guilt or innocence is affirmed.
The Gemara in Masekhet Berakhot (63a), as Rashi (5:12) cites, notes that the section discussing the sota is preceded by a brief discussion regarding the matenot kahuna – the gifts that Benei Yisrael are required to give to the kohanim. To explain the connection between these two subjects, the Gemara establishes that whoever withholds matenot kehuna, failing to give a kohen the required gifts, will ultimately be forced to rely on the kohen’s help by suspecting his wife of infidelity and thus having to bring her to the kohen. It seems, at first glance, that the Gemara speaks here in terms of a punishment for the sin of withholding one’s matenot kehuna. A person who stingily refuses to give his required percentages to the kohen is punished by his wife acting inappropriately, in a manner which arouses his suspicion, thus forcing him to bring her to Jerusalem for the humiliating sota process. However, it seems difficult to understand why this process would be a fitting punishment for withholding matenot kehuna. Moreover, the Gemara speaks of the person “needing” (“nitzrakh”) the kohen, which perhaps leads us to a different interpretation.
A person who fails to give matenot kehuna most likely fails to recognize the value of the kohanim. He feels that the kohanim, the religious leaders and ministers in the Mikdash, do not provide an important enough service, or make a significant enough contribution to the nation, to deserve a percentage of the rest of the nation’s material blessings. It is only when this individual ultimately requires the services of the kohen that he begins to appreciate the value and importance of the kohanim’s role. The Gemara here, perhaps, speaks not of a punishment for withholding matenot kehuna, but rather of a very common phenomenon – of people failing to appreciate others until they find themselves in a situation where they benefit from their skills or fine qualities. Just like a person might not appreciate the service performed by the kohanim until a difficult situation arises that requires the kohen’s involvement to resolve, similarly, we often fail to recognize and appreciate the qualities of other people until we have occasion to experience those qualities firsthand. Chazal here perhaps urge us not to wait to appreciate the value and worth of other people. Each and every person has special qualities and makes a special contribution. Therefore, each and every person deserves our matanot, our kindness and goodwill, which we ought not arrogantly withhold from them thinking that they have not done enough to earn it.