You Must Be Ready And Set Before You Go
Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
Arthur Brooks, the president of The American Enterprise Institute, once told me that for gifted students, the real challenge lies not in accomplishing objectives, but in defining these objectives with confidence—once their minds are set, gifted students can move forward with relative ease.
This principle—the importance of a resolute mind—is the focus of the fourth Aliya of Parshas Naso. The section explicitly addresses concerns of female infidelity: it outlines the initial suspicions of the man; how the infidelity is to be proven, and the punishment should the woman be found guilty.
“Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Should any man’s wife go astray and deal treacherously with him…” (Num 5:12)
But it doesn’t require too much syntactical flexibility to transcend the literal meaning and read the passage as a need for a clear mind.
When thoughts of infidelity first plague the husband—“But a spirit of jealousy had come upon him and he became jealous of his wife” (Num 5:14)—the husband is told to bring his wife to the kohen in the very next verse. Both the immediacy of the action and the involvement of the kohanim suggest that the problem of misgiving, of doubt, is very important. If the husband continues to wonder, continues to question, the relationship cannot be successful.
But not only should the problem be addressed; it should be resolved. The Portion offers a foolproof way for clearing any doubt of the woman’s infidelity:
“Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before the Lord and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousies, while the bitter curse bearing waters are in the kohen’s hand.” (Num 5:18)
In a sense, part of this Aliya boils down to the maxim “fish or cut bait” or, more simply, “make up your mind.” Productivity and happiness are impossible without a committed mind. To return to the statement from Arthur Brooks, it’s very difficult to successfully move forward in law school if simultaneously longing for, or preferring, a doctorate in political science. Similarly, many college freshmen learn that it’s challenging to develop a new life on campus when both heart and brain are fixated on a high school sweetheart more than 500 miles away. And perhaps most commonly, it’s difficult to function at a high capacity in the workplace if uncommitted the job—specifically, in the think tank world to which I belong, it’s hard to raise money if uncommitted to the cause.
But more plainly, the Portion speaks to relationships. Without trust, a marriage/relationship can’t be successful. So if there are issues of trust, issues of mental unease, they need to be resolved immediately.
God has confidence in the skills and ability of the Jewish people to accomplish great things. But before greatness can be achieved, we must remove doubt from our minds and move forward with confidence.