• Rav Yaakov Beasley




In memory of Yakov Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi Donner






By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley




This week’s parasha, Parashat Naso, continues with the accountings begun last week and completes the national census with the families of the Levi’im.  The largest section of the parasha, the conclusion, repetitively describes the tribal leaders’ offerings on the day of the Mishkan’s dedication.  Between the parasha’s beginning and end, we find a wide variety of commands, including the removal of the lepers and diseased from the camp, the process for dealing with a possibly unfaithful wife, the manner in which the Kohanim should bless the people, making amends for cheating, and the laws of a person who accepts a Nazirite vow upon himself.  Some commentators attempt to explain the apparently random order of these subjects by suggesting a common motif linking the various topics.  Umbarto Cassuto, late professor of Bible at Hebrew University, explains the arrangement of our parasha in a different manner:


Subject matter in the Bible is often arranged and linked together by a process of thought and, in particular, word association, probably originally designed as an aid to memory.  This principle has not received sufficient recognition by modern scholars… The book of Bamidbar is arranged chiefly after such a fashion, various items being included because of a similarity of thought or phrase recurring in the chapters concerned.

For instance, the chapters dealing with the arrangement and composition for the camp of Israel are followed by that treating of the guilt offering (asham), to which two verses that concern the priestly portions (matanot kehuna) are appended.  Then we are introduced to the laws applying to the suspected adulteress (sota), succeeded by those treating the Nazirite, to which is appended the priestly blessing.  These apparently disconnected items are linked to each other in accordance with the Bible’s own principles of order and arrangement.  At the end of the chapters treating the camp of Israel, it is recorded that the children of Israel were commanded to send forth from the camp every leper.  The very mention of the word leper recalls the guilt offering he has to bring on the day of his purification, and this accounts for the introduction of the item on the guilt offering at this juncture (Sefer Ha-Kinus, p. 168, collection of lectures at the World Conference of Jewish Studies, 1947).


Despite the simplicity of the above explanation, the traditional commentators found other connections between the various topics in our parasha.  Specifically, they attempted to tease out moral lessons from the semichut parshiyot, the juxtaposition of two sections.  This is exemplified at the beginning of chapter 6, where Rashi comments “Why was the passage of the Nazir placed adjacent to the passage of the suspected adulteress? To tell you that anyone who sees a sota in her state of disgrace should take upon himself to abstain from wine, for wine leads to adultery.”  Our study this week will deal with the beginning of chapter 5, specifically the section dealing with the robbery of the proselyte.




At the beginning of chapter 5, after discussing the removal of the lepers and other impure individuals from the camp, the Torah states:


5 And Hashem spoke unto Moshe, saying:

6 Speak unto the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to commit a trespass against Hashem, and that soul be guilty;

7 Then they shall confess their sin which they have done; and he shall make restitution for his guilt in full, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him in respect of whom he has been guilty. 

8 But if the man has no kinsman to whom restitution may be made for the guilt, the restitution for guilt which is made shall be Hashem's, even the priest's; besides the ram of the atonement, whereby atonement shall be made for him. 


At first glance, these verses appear to be nothing more than a condensed version of what was stated in Sefer Vayikra 5:20-26.  Based on the principle that no word in the Torah repeats itself unnecessarily but always contains some new element, Rashi comments:


The Torah repeats here the laws applicable to robbery with violence, perjury and trespass against Hashem, although already mentioned in Sefer Vayikra, in order to introduce two new elements:  (1) The element of confession, teaching us that the offender is only liable to pay a fine of a fifth part and a guilt-offering on the evidence of witnesses when he himself admits to the wrongdoing; (2) The case of that which has unjustly been taken from a convert, which is then restored to the kohen. 


Let us discuss each of these cases in turn.  The first case raises a fascinating moral dilemma.  Apparently, a repentant sinner, who confesses his guilt on his own accord, is penalized by having to return not only the principal, but an additional fifth, as well as an offering.  The person who attempts to cover their tracks, however, and only admits to their crime because two witnesses implicate him, is only liable to pay back the principal.  Is the Torah rewarding the sinner?  To answer this question, Professor Nechama Leibowitz emphasizes the different roles played by each part of the restitutions:


Bear in mind that the fifth part and the offering are not penalties or fines for the act of robbery, and the subsequent perjury, but atonement.  Without any change of heart or indication, whether by word or by mouth or deed, by the wrongdoer, the offering is meaningless and without value, and so is the payment of the fifth.  These instructions therefore only apply to the penitent, to help him atone for his deeds.  This is as Maimonides wrote in his code, “The guilt offering atones only for the truly repentant, but the one who spurns it is not atoned through it.  (Hilkhot Gezeila Ve-Aveida 5:8)


Along this lines, the Gur Aryeh (written by R. Yehuda Loewy of the 17th century, popularly known as the Maharal of Prague), a super-commentary on Rashi, found a similar moral message hidden within a short comment by Rashi.  On the closing phrase “and give it unto him in respect of whom he has been guilty,” Rashi cryptically notes that this refers “to the one to whom he owes.”   Who is this person?  R. Eliezer Mizrachi suggests that if the victim of the robbery owes money to another, the thief should return the money to the person to whom the money is owed, and not the victim.  The Gur Aryeh, however, takes an entirely different approach:


Rashi wished to emphasize that the word asham in this context does not mean guilt, as it does in other places… if that were the case, the sentence would imply that the robber could make restitution to Hashem, “to Him in respect of whom he has been guilty.”  That is not so.  Only when the victim has no redeemer to whom to make restitution can it be given to Hashem, thought the agency of the priest.  But if the victim has a redeemer or heir, it must be given to them.


Many people attempt to make amends for their sins by attempting to strengthen their relationship and dedication to Hashem.  In the case of robbery, however, atonement cannot occur by donating the stolen object for a sacred cause.  Only when the original owner receives his property can a person receive a clean slate from Above. 




Turning to the second difference in Rashi’s list, we find that, as opposed to Sefer Vayikra, Sefer Bamidbar mentions the case of a person who steals from a convert, who then dies and leaves no heirs to whom the stolen goods can be restored.


But if the man has no kinsman” – This applies to the case where the plaintiff died without heirs.  Our Rabbis posed the question:  Is there anyone is the Jewish people who has no next of kin, brother or relative, nephew or even distant relation, going all the way back to Yaakov Avinu?  Therefore, this verse can only refer to a convert who died and left no heirs [When a person converts to Judaism, their previous blood-ties cease to exist before Jewish law, as the Rabbis taught – a convert is like a newborn babe].  (Rashi 5:8)


The reason that this law appears here becomes apparent when we consider how Sefer Bamidbar has proceeded until now.  The first four chapters dealt with the placement of the different tribes around the Mishkan.  The disparate parts are becoming organized, methodically arranged, each one part of a greater whole.  Every person has a purpose, and from the joining of all the pieces, a larger national entity is being created.  This is the machaneh, the encampment of Bnei Yisrael, upon which the Shekhina (Divine Presence) will rest, and which will travel to the Land of Israel to claim their destined heritage.  In all the pomp and pageantry, what place is there for the convert without family ties or lineage?  To answer that question, the Torah deals with the question of the convert without family here.  The proselyte may have no earthy family, but Hashem will always stand in for him.  This is the theme of the following midrash:


Hashem loves he righteous [converts]” (Tehillim 146:8).  Why does the Holy One love the righteous?  Precisely because they have no hereditary or family title.  Kohanim and Levi’im constitute a father’s house; if a man wants to be a Kohen or a Levi, he cannot become one if his father was not a Kohen or Levi.  But if one wants to become a righteous man, even if he is a Gentile, he can be, as there is no family monopoly on it.  That is why it states, “Those that fear Hashem” (Tehillim 135:20), and not “The house of those that fear Hashem."  Converts are what they are not by virtue of family title, but simply of their own free will …

To what may this be compared?  To a king who kept a flock that went every day to graze in the fields, and returned in the evening.  One day, a stag joined the flock, grazing with them in the fields and coming home with them.  The king was told about it and loved the stag, and he gave orders that it should receive special treatment.  His shepherds said to him:  O king, you have so many goats and sheep and yet you single this one out for special treatment.  The king explained that his flock, whether they like it or not, graze in the fields during the day but must come to the pen at night.  Stags, however, ordinarily sleep in the desert and do not approach human habitation.   Should we not be grateful to the stag for forsaking the wide-open spaces and coming to live with us?  Similarly, should we not be grateful to the convert who leaves his family and people and comes to us?  For this reason, Hashem ordered that special care be taken of the proselyte… The Torah orders that equal treatment for both the native-born Jew and the convert, and taking by violence from either must be expiated by payment of a fine and an atonement offering, as it is written in the section of the robbery of a convert (Bamidbar 5).  (Bamidbar Rabba 8:2)