The current Torah portion this weekend is Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89. This is the portion where, in the fifth chapter, is described the ritual of the water of bitterness; if a man even suspects his wife is unfaithful to him. he brings her up to the priest, who takes water in an urn and puts some earth in it. The priest tells the woman, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not gone astray in defilement while married to your husband, be immune to harm from this water of bitterness that induces the spell. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and have defiled yourself, if a man other than your husband has had carnal relations with you…may the LORD make a curse and an imprecation among your people, as the LORD causes your thigh to sag and your belly to distend; may this water that induces the spell enter your body, causing the belly to distend and the thigh to sag.”
the priest writes down the curses and rubs them off into the water of bitterness, and the woman drinks it and if nothing happens to her she is clear of the accusation of unfaithfulness. This is a sign of the patriarchal nature of that era; there is not a similar ritual if the husband is unfaithful. Plus. we live in a culture where fifty per cent of marriages end in divorce, and monogamy is being questioned as THE ONLY lifestyle choice.
the sixth chapter discusses the vow of the Nazarite, supposedly someone zealous about their religious faith. As chapter 6:1-4 says, “…If anyone, man of woman, explicitly utters a nazarite’s vow, to set himself apart for the LORD, he shall abstain from wine and any other intoxicant, neither shall he drink vinegar of wine or of any other intoxicant, neither shall he drink anything in which grapes have been steeped, not eat grapes fresh or dried. Throughout his term as a nazarite, he may not eat anything that is obtained from the grapevine, ever seeds of skin.”
This is an attempt to channel religious zeal into appropriate channels; history shows examples of such zeal has been used as an excuse for the most horrific things, like the Inquisition, the Crusades, and those terrorists defaming the religion of Islam for their terrible purposes. (Alas, Judaism has it share of crazies and fanatics; look at the Jewish Defense League from back in the day.) I would love to see religious zeal used in constructive purposes, such as taking care of the hungry, the sick, the elderly, as I know God would want us to do. that to be in religion at work.
Another thing-the section on the nazarites discusses taking vows, pledging to do so-and-so before God; sometimes it’s not possible to fulfill an oath or a pledge, and you have to be careful in making such pledges-you may have all the best intentions to carry out the pledge, but not the ability to fulfill it.