Erasing God's Name

The Talmud says "One must always be careful of wronging his wife, for her tears are frequent and she is quickly hurt."

(Image: © Bigstock/David Pereiras)

Nasso

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.


The husband of the woman suspected of adultery is brought to the Tabernacle. The priest officiating the ritual prepares a cocktail of water and dust from the Tabernacle floor. He makes the woman swear an oath that will bring an imprecation upon herself if she is guilty. Then the priest wrote out the words of the oath on a scroll, washed the ink from the scroll into the water and gave the water to the woman.

The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. (Numbers 5:23)

The woman drank the water, symbolizing the ingesting of the curse to prove her guilt or innocence. If she was guilty, the water would harm her. If she was innocent, the water would have no malignant effect on her. Instead, it would increase her fertility.

The procedure raises a difficulty, though. Ordinarily in Judaism it is forbidden to erase God's holy Name. For example, when a scribe is copying the Scriptures in Hebrew, he can erase any mistake he makes unless it contains God's Name. If he errs while writing a line of text with God's Name in it, he can erase the rest of the line, but not the Name of God.

For this reason, observant Jews do not write the Name of God in Hebrew on a chalkboard or white board that might be erased. Documents containing the written Hebrew Name of God take on a more precious status. They are not carelessly dropped or destroyed or irreverently tossed in the garbage. Holy books containing God's Name are not even left face down on a table or placed beneath other, less sacred books. Holy books are never taken into bathrooms. Even photocopies containing God's Name take on a holy status. When a scroll or book or piece of paper containing God's Name is ready for disposal, the item is accorded a proper "burial" of sorts in a repository for sacred writings. These traditions teach us to respect and revere God's Name.

Given the respect accorded to God's Name and the strong tradition against erasing God's Name, why does the Torah command the priest to erase the curse from the scroll into the water? God's holy Name appears twice in the curse. The sages teach that God is so concerned for peace between a husband and wife that He is even willing for His own Name to be erased to bring it about (Sifre 17).

In Judaism, peace between husband and wife is referred to as shalom bayit (שלום בית), a term that literally means "peace of the house." Peace between a husband and wife takes precedence even over the sanctity of God's Name. If that is the case, we need to be careful about allowing religion to disrupt marriage. God is more interested in the success of your marriage than He is in your particular religious choices. He is so committed to the sanctity of marriage that He is even willing for his Name to be erased to preserve peace in the home. How much more should we make every effort to bring peace into our homes.

The Talmud says "One must always be careful of wronging his wife, for her tears are frequent and she is quickly hurt." The Talmudic passage goes on to say that God is quick to respond to a wife's tears and that her tears are more efficacious than his prayers. God takes the tears of a woman very seriously. The passage concludes by saying, "One must always be respectful towards his wife because blessings rest on a man's home only for the sake of his wife." (b.Baba Metzia 59a)

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