Shaya Cohen -


Creative Conundrums: Naso

Is Sotah A Marah Ritual?

The Sotah is tested with bitter waters because of doubts concerning her faithfulness. If she passes, she is blessed with children.

When the Jews leave Egypt we come first to Marah, “bitterness.” There they were put to the test. As a result, we are blessed to be healthy.

Is it possible that Marah is a national Sotah ritual? They have many elements in common. If this is the case, is Marah how the Jewish people proved we were not unfaithful to Hashem while in Egypt?

Immediately after, we come to Elim, populated by 12 springs and 70 palm trees. Could this be symbolically connected to the 12 tribes and 70 who descended to Egypt? In other words, might it have been a divine sign that our relationship was restored, in some sense to when the Jews first descended into Egypt? Like the Sotah’s renewal of a relationship with her husband?

The Number 5?

… that person shall make restitution for the remission regarding the sacred things, adding a fifth part to it and giving it to the priest. (Lev. 5:16) … that person shall repay the principal amount and add a fifth part to it. (Lev. 5:24) … if any such party eats of a sacred donation unwittingly, the priest shall be paid for the sacred donation, adding one-fifth of its value. (Lev. 22:14) … if one wishes to redeem [an animal], one-fifth must be added to its assessment. (Lev. 27:13) … if the one who has consecrated the house wishes to redeem it, one-fifth must be added to the sum at which it was assessed, and then it shall be returned. (Lev. 27:15) … if the one who consecrated the land wishes to redeem it, one-fifth must be added to the sum at which it was assessed, and it shall be passed back. (Lev. 27:19 … if [a firstling] is of impure animals, it may be ransomed at its assessment, with one-fifth added; (Lev. 27:27 … If any party wishes to redeem any tithes, one-fifth must be added to them. (Lev. 27:31)… When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with G-d, and they realize their guilt, they shall confess the wrong that they have done. They shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to the one who was wronged. (Num. 5:6)

Isn’t it interesting that the number five seems to be connected to property transfers?

Is it plausible that this comes from Joseph? After all…

And let Pharaoh take steps to appoint overseers over the land, and five the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. (Gen. 41:34) … Portions were served them from his table; but Benjamin’s portion was five times that of anyone else. And they drank their fill with him. (Gen. 43:34) … Joseph gave them wagons as Pharaoh had commanded, and he supplied them with provisions for the journey. To each of them, moreover, he gave a change of clothing; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing. (Gen. 45:21) … Then Joseph came and reported to Pharaoh, saying, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that is theirs, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in the region of Goshen.” And carefully selecting five of his brothers, he presented them to Pharaoh. (Gen. 47:1) … Then Joseph said to the people, “Whereas I have this day acquired you and your land for Pharaoh, here is seed for you to sow the land. And when harvest comes, you shall give one-fifth to Pharaoh, and four-fifths shall be yours as seed for the fields and as food for you and those in your households, and as nourishment for your children.” (Gen. 47: 23-24)… And Joseph made it into a land law in Egypt, which is still valid, that a fifth should be Pharaoh’s; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s. (Gen. 47:26)

There might be another dimension to this as well, right? After all, those who have to pay a fifth (whether Jewish or Egyptian) were guilty of not planning for the long term, not thinking about the consequences of their actions?

In other words: people who pay a fifth have acted like animals with short time horizons? As Joseph Cox points out, the Jews are described at the beginning of Exodus as being like swarms of insects, filling the land. And they are similarly described when they leave Egypt as being chamushim, fivers – like the swarms of lower-order, instinctive animals created on the fifth day. A mob. Stimulus and response.

Selfishness. Unthinking behavior. Short-term planning. All connected to the number five? Is this why the consequences, middo k’neged middo, are also five?

If this is correct, did Joseph discover and use the number this way, or did he invent it, and thus the halacha follows him?

Might this also be connected to the Leviim?

This is the rule for the Levites. From twenty-five years of age up they shall participate in the work force in the service of the Tent of Meeting; but at the age of fifty they shall retire from the work force and shall serve no more.

Are not the Leviim responsible for some redistribution of property (korbanos), as well as teaching people to see the Big Picture and think of consequences and the long term results of our actions?

Nazir = Eden?

Consider the Nazir: no self-consciousness, no grape products, no death.

Is it possible the Nazir chooses to symbolically live as though still in Eden?

If so, might this explain the sin-offering? Adam and Eve lived in a static world, without human acts of creation. Has someone who chooses to put themselves in the static Garden of Eden also committed a sin by denying their powers of creativity?

Comments are welcome!

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