Monday, June 6, 2016

Parashat Naso 5776 Value Judgments

Echoes of Eden
Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat Naso 5776
Value Judgments

The gift of holiness creates a challenge. Holiness has, if not by definition then at least by connotation, an element of separateness; what makes something holy is its differentness, its uniqueness, its separateness. The new Mishkan, therefore, creates a challenge, and perhaps the most appropriate time to address this challenge is the moment when the nation is about to embark on its much-anticipated march to the Promised Land. While encamped, demarcations and boundaries are clear, yet even then we are warned against overstepping boundaries between holy and profane - more precisely, the Torah specifically forbids us to make personal use of something that has been dedicated to the holy Temple. It is not hard to imagine that this problem may become more acute when the camp is broken down and travel begins. Anticipating this problem, the Torah introduces the idea of meilah, misappropriation of holy things.

And then, in a deft segue, the Torah turns to marriage - specifically, a dysfunctional relationship riddled with suspicion, secretive trysts and possible infidelity. The shift seems sudden and strange; there seems to be only a single, tenuous thread of connection between these subjects: The same word, meilah, is used to describe a mans crime if he is guilty of sleeping with another mans spouse. Apparently, the message is much deeper, and this slim linguistic thread contains a much larger idea: Marriage, like the Temple, is sacred. A person who tramples the boundaries and sleeps with someone elses wife is guilty of more than taking something that does not belong to him; he is guilty of misappropriating something that is holy.

This is an unabashed value judgment and it is sorely lacking in modern life. In so many areas of our lives, we have banished the Divine, and chased away holiness. We have a created a mundane world. It is subtle, often imperceptible, but we find this that this tendency in full bloom in literature, film, theater, popular music, and all forms of entertainment. The plot is all too familiar: A forlorn wife, underappreciated and perhaps even the victim of abuse; temptation is introduced, most often in the form of a kind stranger (who is almost always good looking) gives her a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he offers her a means of escape from her miserable marriage, either in the form of some fleeting happiness or in the longer term. And as we reading or watch the plot unfold, we are lured into the premise that personal happiness trumps all other values. Our decency dissolves as we root for the protagonist to break the Seventh Commandment.

We begin to suspect that modern values consider the Seventh Commandment more negotiable than the Sixth or Eighth (yes, you will have to look these up its worthwhile knowing what they are). To be sure, there are times that divorce is the best option; some couples are better apart than together, and the best way forward leads in two separate directions. But this is not the issue at hand. The real question posed by this parashah is, how have we become a society that does not respect boundaries? Why do we not see marriage as sacred?

When introducing the concept of meilah, the Torah quickly qualifies the concept as one which is not exclusive to the realm of Mishkan or Temple. Each and every home is holy. Anyone who violates that holiness, who shatters that sanctity, is guilty of meilah.

The extension of this idea is that each of us must treat our own spouse with respect and reverence, and realize that he or she is special, and that the bond of marriage is holy. In a world without a Temple, we must recognize the points of holiness in our personal lives: Holiness is with us at all times, under the same roof. It is a part of our personal lives, and all we need do to connect to it is to appreciate it and cherish it, to sanctify our relationship and treat our spouses with the reverence and care appropriate for something holy. Perhaps this is why the rabbis taught that whoever brings joy to bride and groom is considered to have rebuilt one of the ruins of Jerusalem: Helping people rejoice in the knowledge that they have entered into a holy relationship is truly another brick in the wall of the third Temple.

For a more in-depth analysis see:

 Echoes of Eden

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