The Temple in Your Heart

The Torah section of Naso contains seemingly disconnected sections. First, we read about a thief who wishes to return what he is stolen, but his victim is no longer alive and does not have any heirs. He must return the money to the priests of the Holy Temple. Then there is one who fails to give the required tithes to the priests of the Temple.

Then there is the remarkable section about the test of the unfaithful wife, who was brought into the temple after reasonable suspicion, and forced to drink a potion that will determine her guilt or innocence.

Then, there is the section of the nazarite, who vows to abstain from wine, haircuts, and coming in contact with the dead. At the end of his period as a Nazir, the offering he must bring in the temple is described. And finally, wrapping this part up, is the priestly benediction to the people.

What is the connection of all of these things? I believe it is an imbalance of faith and trust. And the corrective of this imbalance can only be achieved in the Holy Temple. Let me explain.

Why, in the first section, should the priests of the Temple receive that which was stolen from a private individual who left no heirs? The sages explain that the only logical person who could leave no heirs to receive returned stolen funds would be a convert. I would like to suggest that the convert does indeed have an heir, and that air is none other than God Himself. Gifts to the Temple are gifts to Him. The convert have established a deep love relationship with God, and so God is his Heir.

I would like to add a different idea to this. A convert is to be welcomed by the people of Israel with great love and respect. The convert is not only joining a theological community, he or she is joining a living, breathing people. He has been inspired by the people of Israel, and the people of Israel are commanded to love him. Instead, somebody betrayed that trust by stealing or cheating this person. Perhaps damage was done to their spiritual connection as a result. When trust has been betrayed, faith is weakened. The cure for this is to return to the Temple, and once again the purified by connecting to the Divine Presence therein.

Failure to give the required portions of one's produce to the Cohen and the Levi similarly evinces a betrayal of trust. They depend upon the people to support them, so they can represent the people in God's Temple on a full-time basis. A betrayal of that trust also displays a lack of faith in the importance of their mission. The person has disconnected from the source of faith, from the Temple.

A woman who has been seen concluding herself with a man other than her husband has also betrayed her husband's trust. When trust is betrayed, faith is weakened. The Hebrew words for man and woman share two Hebrew letters: shin and aleph. The word for man also has a yod in it, and the word for woman also has a heh. A yod and a heh together a spell one of the names of God. Without those two letters, the aleph and shin spell the word "esh", which means fire. The lesson is, if God's name is not part of the marriage, it will be consumed by fire. In other words, without faith, there is no trust.

The solution for the damaged relationship is for the couple to come to the Temple. There, God's Name will be erased by the very potion of the woman will drink. Thus, resolutions will be achieved, and, if the woman did not have an affair, her marriage and trust will be re-created. Again, the Temple heals the breach of faith and trust.

In some cases, a person is motivated to do more than is required. They wish to run away from all of the illnesses of society, and create their own religious purity. There is a danger in this, as it can lead to extremism and intolerance. Thus, the Nazir must also remain connected to the Temple. You must bring a sacrifice at the conclusion of his vow, and rebalance his trust and faith. Often, a person may choose such about because their trust in their own character is weakened. They are afraid that they, too, shall fall. So they build up walls of protective religious extremism. It is not ideal, and, if disconnected from the Temple and from true faith, can lead to destruction. If connected, it can indeed strengthen a tottering person.

Finally, the blessing that the priests give to the people is, in truth, the antidote for all of the ills previously mentioned in this. If we have strong faith in our hearts, if we take the Divine Presence into our daily lives, that our trust in ourselves and our faith in God will be balanced. We will be connected to the Temple, and the Temple will inspire our confidence work in this world.

Just How Religious?

A "character" in this week's Torah reading is none other than the earth itself. According to the Midrash, when God gave the Torah to Israel, Earth was concerned. "If they observe the laws, all is good. But if not, I will be the one to pay the price, just as happened when I was cursed for Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge."

In other words, the Earth was concerned that she would pay the price for any sin that Israel would commit. So God reassured Earth. "Already in the time of Noah, I promised that day and night, hot and cold, winter and summer will not be suspended anymore." In other words, the Earth shall continue to follow its regular cycles without interference.

Thus, Earth was placated. It seems to me that this evolved to the point where God defends the Earth's right to a sabbatical rest by punishing the people. We have come full circle.

What changed? King Solomon said, "One sinner can cause great good to be lost." The Medrash applies this to the sabbatical year. They if the people fail to preserve the sanctity of this year, the consequence is the loss of the land as the people go into exile.

Why is this mitzvah different from all other mitzvot?

The secret is Order. Our sages tell us of the phases of world history. The first 2000 years are chaos. The next 2000 are Torah. The final 2000 are the days of the Messiah. We see from this that there is, indeed, a form of evolution from chaos to order to redemption.

Now I can understand why the Earth could be punished in the early generations, but be promised Order after the flood. Initially, the world was impulsive. Just as the physical creation proceeded from chaos to order, so too mankind. Man was impulsive. He was capable of great spiritual and intellectual accomplishments, and repulsive behavior at the same time. There was no order, there was no stability.

As the world approached the Epoch of Torah, order and stability began to be present. God's world was created to be one of order and stability. Thus, the more orderly the world, the more in line with God's intention it is, and the more enduring it will be. Noah represented the end of chaos, and the beginning of stability. Hence, God's promise to Earth that order and sequence will now reign.

Another Medrash tells us about Abraham's journey to the holy land. Outside of Israel, he saw people "eating and drinking and behaving impulsively." He did not wish to live in such places.

But when he passed The Ladder of Tyre, and entered the Land of Israel, he saw people clearing their fields at the right time, plowing the fields at the right time, harvesting at the right time, etc. He said, "May my portion be with the people who live in this Land."

Abraham saw a land of order and stability. The Land of Israel, for the Jewish people, is where our order and stability are based. Violating the sanctity of the land, in a fashion that does violence to order, is a grave sin. The sabbatical year symbolizes that order, as it shows structure to the years. King Solomon said, "for everything there is an appropriate time." Violating the sabbatical year is an attack on order and stability, and causes "great good," the continued presence of Israel and her land, to be lost.

For this reason, the sabbatical year is not obligatory outside the land of Israel. For, as Abraham saw, those are lands ruled by impulse.

The prophet Isaiah (Chapter 26) is critical of those people whose approach to the word of God is, "a commandment here, a commandment there, a line here, a line there, a little here, a little there." These are people who keep Judaism impulsively. They are not consistent. It is not ordered or structured, it is whatever they feel at the moment.

The defining text of Jewish law is called the Shulchan Aruch, which means "The Set Table." This name screams out the importance of structure and order! Our Judaism must be structured and organized. Our days, our weeks, our years, our lives require structure. When they have it, they are in harmony with Creation and, especially, the most ordered and structured land in the world – The Land of Israel!

Let us reevaluate the way we keep Judaism. Let us not pick and choose, jump from inspiration and neglect from boredom. Let us make it part of our daily order and routine, our weekly rhythms, and our life plan.