Deceit and Breaking Faith

Last week, we completed our 49-stage journey through the wilderness, the seven weeks from the Liberation holiday of Passover toward the Revelation holiday of Shavuot. We are now in the segment of the Jewish calendar that carries us from the high point of Revelation at Sinai to the low point of Tisha B’av, an observance focusing on loss and destruction, followed by the slow climb back up to the new year. For this segment of the calendar, we won’t be following a daily practice and so will slow things down.

Two passages on “breaking faith” in this week’s Torah portion, Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89).

In one verse — Numbers 5:6 — an individual does something unspecified that wrongs another– and that text adds, “thus breaking faith with God.”

Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith [limol ma’al] with the LORD, and that person realizes his guilt…

— Numbers 5:6 (JPS)

A few verses later — Numbers 5:12 — a man believes his wife has been breaking faith with him in secret.

Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: If any man’s wife has gone astray and broken faith with him [ma’alah bo ma’al]…

— Numbers 5:12 (JPS)

There are many ways of understanding connections between these two verses, and another in Leviticus, all using the same Hebrew word “ma’al.”

When a person sins and commits a trespass [ma’alah ma’al] against the LORD by dealing deceitfully with his fellow in the matter of a deposit or a pledge, or through robbery, or by defrauding his fellow…

— Leviticus 5:21 (JPS)

The link between breaking faith with God and an offense that hurt another human, in Num 5:6, is much remarked upon. In that context —

When we allow social injustice to continue, we steal from God” by Rabbi Amy Eilberg, May 2018

Other commentaries on these verses focus on the secrecy involved in each offense and how that attempt at secrecy is in itself an offense toward God, implying in its way a denial of God or the divinity in the other human.

See also, Abraham Joshua Heschel :

Rabbi Bunam of Przyscha used to give the following definition of a hasid. According to medieval sources, a hasid is he who does more than the law requires. Now, this is the law: Thou shalt not deceive thy fellow man (Lev 25:17). A hasid goes beyond the law; he will not even deceive his own self.

God is Search of Man, p.11

With this idea and Rabbi Eilberg’s words both in mind: What is our responsibility to explore the kinds of hurts and obligations she discusses? If we are commanded to not deceive even ourselves, we as individuals and as a country have much to undo.

Published by vspatz

Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

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