Friday, May 27, 2011

Sorry Just Doesn't Cut It

RaYBaSH’s Ponderings of the Pentateuch
Parashah # 35: Nasso “Make and accounting”
B’midbar/Numbers 4:21-7:89
By: Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr

This Parashah deals with the Levitical Priestly duties, the Priestly Aaronic blessing, and the census of eligibility of those for Levitical Priestly service. This Portion also touches on uncleanness, restitution for wrongs, wives suspected of adultery and most famously this Torah Reading is known for the Nazarite Vow.

In past Parashot I have dealt extensively with  the Nazarite Vow and thus will focus my attentions elsewhere in the Torah Portion.

Lev. 5:5-10 And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the LORD; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. And he shall bring them unto the priest, who shall offer that which is for the sin offering first, and wring off his head from his neck, but shall not divide it asunder: And he shall sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar; and the rest of the blood shall be wrung out at the bottom of the altar: it is a sin offering. And he shall offer the second for a burnt offering, according to the manner: and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him.

We live in a culture where apologies and alligator tears are in vogue. Use to, you had to twist some ones arm until they said “Uncle” before one would say, “I’m sorry.” But TV evangelists, politicians have paved the way for athletes, actors and actresses as well as rock stars to sin secretly, be exposed and televised before millions confessing their sin and saying, “I’m sorry.” And some crank out the tears in hopes to come across more sincere and gain sympathy. After all our fallen flesh loves a good juicy scandal and we tend to sympathize with those who have the same vices as we do.

With spy ware, closed circuit cameras and phone bugs it’s hard to live lives of secrecy when you are a public figure and so instead of tried and true strategy of deny and pass the buck society has opted to now admit that there is no where to run or hide so might as well confess and say, “I’m sorry.” 

Like “Abra-Kadabra” or “Open Sesame,” “I’m Sorry” is like a magic word that makes it all better, right? WRONG! Talk is cheap and such public apologies are nothing more than double speak that says between the lines, “I am not sorry for what I did, I am only sorry I got caught.” Now thanks to the media apologies come a dime a dozen and are scrutinized and analyzed by professionals who deem them sincere or a sly PR ploy to smoothy over a career gone south.

Hollywood and politics need to take a cue from law enforcement. “I’m sorry” will not get you out of a traffic ticket. “I’m sorry” will not keep a murderer or rapist from a stripped or orange jumpsuit with numbers on it and a urine stained mattress behind iron bars. Law enforcement knows a penalty and restitution has to be made.

I recall one time my daughter was very young I had to teach her the difference between saying “I’m sorry” and true repentance.

One afternoon when I picked up my daughter from school I could see clear dread on her face. I knew she had somehow gotten in trouble.

Come to find out she had not been paying attention in class and was goofing off with another little girl at her table. She was pretending to be a dog as the other little girl put her finger in front of her face as my daughter pretended to snap at it. This went on until she had accidentally bit the little girl’s finger. Knowing it was an accident all she got was a talking to by the principal.

Nonetheless I was furious. But when we got home and as I was about to give her a good tongue lashing I stopped myself.

I gently explained to her and asked if she understood that it was wrong for her to not be paying attention in class and as a result she unintentionally hurt another person. I asked her is she had apologized to the little girl, and if she asked G-d to forgive her. She said that she did. Then I gently told her that did she realize that just saying “I’m sorry.” For a Jew is not good enough?

I saw the look of shame and bewilderment on her face as I began to explain that as a Jew G-d holds us to a higher accountability than the Goyim. I told her that if at all possible G-d expects us to fix, to repair to make better what we did wrong. This I told her was the definition of truly being sorry; this was what we Jews call “Teshuvah” (Repentance).

I then asked her what she could do to fix the situation. I asked her if she could heal the little girl’s finger. She said no, and then her little mind began to spin. “I could make her a “Get Well Card, because people give other people cards when they are not feeling well. And even if I can’t heal her finger, G-d can and I can help by putting a bandage in the card. And when I get hurt a piece of candy always helps me feel better. So I’ll staple a piece of candy in the card.” So she began digging out her paper and crayons and started work on the card. We gathered all materials and she excitedly worked on her “tikkun” (fixing what is wrong) project.

When she was all done she felt much better and couldn’t wait to go to school the next day to give her card with the bandage and piece of candy to the little girl.

In this Torah Passage, “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut the mustard and we learn that if one steals from another after confessions and apologies are made, restitution is required and thus the proof is in the pudding when it comes to repentance. Actions speak louder than words. The thief has to restore the stolen or destroyed good with interest of 5% of the value of the item. Have you ever seen a fallen TV evangelist, politician, athlete, rock star or actor do that? If so, it is extremely rare.

Everyone should take away from this passage that “sorry” isn’t enough, one must find out what is necessary to make things right again. Once again, talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.

Judges 13:2-25 is our Haftarah  reading but I want to look at other passages in the book of Judges.

Jud. 14:1-20

If you will recall, Samson was a Nazarite from birth and was prohibited from touching anything dead, partaking of any grape products and he was not permitted to cut his hair. Along with this he was bound by the rest of Torah and one such prohibition was marrying outside of Israel unless the betrothed was a convert.

In Judges 14 it is clear Samson broke his Nazarite Vow by scooping honey from the carcass of a lion and hence the reason he did not tell his parents where he got the honey from. Also, he married a pagan woman and the passage implies possibly that Samson also got drunk at the wedding which would have violated another Nazarite prohibition.

Jud. 16:4-22

Samson ended up marrying another pagan woman after the first was given away to another man and Samson broke another aspect of the Nazarite Vow which ended up being his demise. He got a haircut!

Jud. 16:28 And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.

Notice the narrative, Samson never said that he was sorry for what he had done, nor did he make restitution for breaking his vow which instructions are found in Num. 6:9-12.

Samson only was sorry that he was caught and selfishly wanted vengeance, but his selfish request for vengeance would end up making up for all he should have done as a Judge over Israel which I believe is why YHWH answered affirmatively Samson’s selfish prayer.

Jud. 16:28-30 And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
In the Brit Chadasha, Luke 19:1-10 most everyone remembers the story and songs about the famous little tax collector Zacchaeus. This section in the Besorah (Gospel) of Luke in the Brit Chadasha (N.T.) shows how Zacchaeus understood repentance and restitution in regards to his dishonesty and thievery. It is thought by his confession of intentions to restore that which was ill gotten was the equivalent of the value of a sheep according to Exodus 22:1

Exodus 22:1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.

Yeshua agrees with Zacchaeus’ intentions and accepts his genuine repentance and plans of restoration and did not correct him in any way, but said…

“This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” – (Luke 19:9)   

Shabbat Shalom and Shavuah Tov!
-         Rabbi Yehudah