Confession, Repentance, Restitution

It's never easy to apologize, but the Torah requires us to confess our sins and then make restitution when we have wronged another.

Young man apologizes to spouse. (Image: Bigstock)


Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Nasso (נשא | Take up)
  • Torah: Numbers 4:21-7:89
  • Haftarah: Judges 13:2-5
  • Gospel: Luke 1:11-20

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Numbers 4:21 | The Gershonites and Merarites
    • Numbers 4:34 | Census of the Levites
    • Numbers 5:1 | Unclean Persons
    • Numbers 5:5 | Confession and Restitution
    • Numbers 5:11 | Concerning an Unfaithful Wife
    • Numbers 6:1 | The Nazirites
    • Numbers 6:22 | The Priestly Benediction
    • Numbers 7:1 | Offerings of the Leaders
  • Prophets
    • Jdg 13:1 | The Birth of Samson

Portion Summary

The second reading from the book of Numbers and the thirty-fifth reading from the Torah is called Nasso (נשא), a word that literally means "lift up." It comes from the first word of the second verse in Hebrew, which could literally be translated to say, "Lift up the heads of the sons of Gershon," an idiomatic way of saying, "Make an accounting of the sons of Gershon." This Torah portion finishes up the census of the Levites that was under way at the end of the last Torah portion, before going on to discuss the purification of the camp, the ritual for a woman suspected of adultery, the laws of the Nazirite vow, the priestly benediction and the gifts the heads of the twelve tribes brought for the dedication of the altar.

When we sin against another person, causing them some loss, we must confess the sin, but we must also prove our repentance by making restitution. In most cases our restitution should include a sincere confession and apology to the individual we have wronged. A person must seek his neighbor’s forgiveness before seeking God’s.

And he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged. But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution which is made for the wrong must go to the LORD for the priest, besides the ram of atonement, by which atonement is made for him. (Numbers 5:7-8)

In some cases, the victim has suffered no injury and remains unaware of the offense committed against him or her. In such a case, the person might be unnecessarily hurt to hear one’s confession. It may be best to spare the person the injury that would be incurred by the confession and apology. For example, a husband probably should not say to his wife, “I apologize for gazing on other women whom I find more attractive than you.”

Sometimes the desire to confess a sin to a person who does not know about the sin stems from a selfish desire to relieve one’s own feelings of guilt. The confessor is unconcerned with how the apology will emotionally damage the victim. In such situations, a person should employ common sense and a little empathy before offering an apology.

In most cases, however, the clear and certain thing to do is to seek out the person you have wronged and apologize. Along with the apology comes restitution. In matters involving financial loss, the Torah prescribes a minimum of full repayment plus one-fifth the value. If the sin also involved a matter of sacrilege, such as swearing falsely, the sinner must also bring “the ram of atonement” as a guilt offering to the Sanctuary.

If one’s victim has died or is no longer available, one must still pay the restitution. The restitution should be made to the victim’s next of kin according to the order of blood redemption outlined in Leviticus 25:25-31, i.e., brother, uncle, cousin. The Torah says that the restitution must be given to the man’s kinsman kinsman-redeemer: “But if the man has no redeemer to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution which is made for the wrong must go to the LORD for the priest” (Numbers 5:8).

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