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Sin and Insanity: Further Thoughts on Naso


Torah Portion: Naso ("lift up!")

Shabbat: June 3, 2023 | Sivan 14, 5783

New Covenant: Acts 21:17-26


Priestly Blessing

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26


Sin and Insanity... Further Thoughts on Parashat Naso

"Don't you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?" - Soren Kierkegaard

From our Torah reading this week (i.e., parashat Naso) we read, "If any... goes astray and breaks faith..." (Num. 5:12). The sages comment that the Hebrew for "goes astray" (i.e., tisteh: תִשְׂטֶה) is written so it may also be read as "goes insane" (i.e., tishteh: תִשְׁטֶה), and concludes that sin is a form of insanity, that is, a denial of what is real, and therefore a state of delusion.

We are required, as a matter of our faith in the truth of Holy Scripture attested by the Holy Spirit, to believe that God is knowable (Rom. 1:19-20), that we are always in His presence (Prov. 15:3; Psalm 94:9; 139), that He is all-knowing or omniscient (Psalm 147:5), and that nothing can be hidden from Him (Isa. 40:28; Jer. 23:24; Heb. 4:13), but when we sin, we "break from" this reality and deny the divine Presence by a perverse act of self-exaltation.

Whenever we imagine that we are unseen by God or whenever we "forget" that we live, move, and have our being in His presence, we are denying reality. Our sin causes us lose sight of what's real: we forget who God is; we forget who we are; and we exile ourselves from the Source of life... Surely sin is a form of insanity, and therefore we have a moral and spiritual obligation to think clearly and to value truth.

As Rabbi Judah would say, "Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book" (Pirke Avot 2:1). Therefore "fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl. 12:13-14).

There is a story about how the Baal Shem Tov once hired a wagon driver to take him to a nearby village. On the way, the two men soon passed by a field laden with luscious produce. The driver stopped the wagon, turned to the Baal Shem Tov - whose identity he did not know - and said with a wicked grin, "I'm going to fetch us some good vegetables from that field now. You be on the lookout. Call out if you see anyone!

Just as the driver bent down to pick some vegetables, the Baal Shem Tov screamed, "We're seen! We're seen!" The frightened man then ran back to the wagon and raced away. After traveling some distance he turned around and realized that no one was following them. "Why did you call out like that?" he chided the rabbi. "There was nobody watching." The Baal Shem Tov then pointed upward and said: "God was watching; God is always watching, as it's written: 'The eyes of the LORD are in every place, observing the evil and the good.' (Prov. 15:3)

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