Parashat Naso

Punishment To Fit The Crime And The Confession

The different punishments for criminals who confess, and those who do not, shed light on the psychology of pleading guilty.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • A census of the Gershonites, Merarites, and Koathites between the ages of thirty and fifty is conducted and their duties in the Tabernacle are detailed. (Numbers 4:21-49)

  • God speaks to Moses concerning what to do with ritually unclean people, repentant individuals, and those who are suspected of adultery. (Numbers 5:1-31)

  • The obligations of a nazirite vow are explained. They include abstaining from alcohol and not cutting one's hair. (Numbers 6:1-21)

  • God tells Moses how to teach Aaron and his sons the Priestly Blessing. (Numbers 6:22-27)

  • Moses consecrates the Sanctuary, and the tribal chieftains bring offerings. Moses then speaks with God inside the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 7:1-89)

Focal Point

Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with Adonai, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged. If the man has no kinsman to whom restitution can be made, the amount repaid shall go to Adonai for the priest--in addition to the ram of expiation with which expiation is made on his behalf. (Numbers 5:5-8)

Your Guide

Why does the text characterize a sin against another person as "breaking faith with God?"

What is the purpose of mentioning the guilty party's awareness and confession of his or her sin?

Why does the harmed party receive more than the amount that was taken from him or her?

Once restitution has been made with the additional twenty percent penalty, what is the function of the sin offering?

Which is the most important kind of confession in the type of case described in the text: confession to one's self, confession before God, or public confession? Why? To what extent do the circumstances of the sin change the relative importance of these confessions?

Which of the three kinds of confession seems most significant to you if you have sinned? Why?

By the Way…

"Thus breaking faith with Adonai" [Numbers 5:6]. A fundamental statement underlying Torah laws: The injury is done to God as well as to man [sic]. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, edited by W. Gunther Plaut, UAHC Press, 1981, p. 1,050)

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Rabbi Barry HD Block

Rabbi Barry H. D. Block has served Temple Beth-El in San Antonio since 1992, and became the congregation's Senior Rabbi in 2002.