Parshat Naso really, really bothers me.
First, we have this issue of a wife cheating on her husband. It’s pretty ugly. He gets to take her to the center of the town where she drinks a bitter water that will probably kill her. If she lives, she didn’t sin. If she dies…well…you know. It’s very Salem Witch Trials, and sounds a lot nicer when you hear the Girls In Trouble song about it called, “Secrets/You’re Always Watching”.
Then there’s hippies. No. Really. Hippies.
The Torah talks about something called the Nazarite vow. It’s a vow taken by a person who wants to be “holy”. And they have some pretty interesting rules they have to live by: they have to grow their hair long, they can’t drink wine, they can’t be near a dead body, and they have to offer sacrifices along with going to the mikvah (ritual bath).
Let’s think…wanna-be holy people with long hair who need to take a bath. Hippies!
But here’s the cool thing. Adultery in the Bible is a two-way street. Men can’t cheat and neither can women. And there’s examples of strong female characters like Tamar and Esther who challenge the idea that women were baby-machines-who-better-keep-their-mouths-shut. Though it doesn’t seem like it at times, the Bible is actually pretty egalitarian.
And as for those hippie Nazarite people. Well, they can be men or women! Anyone can take the vow to be a holy person. That says a lot, given the number of religions that teach the superiority of men in the holiness department.
This year it’s especially fitting that Parshat Naso be read during the time of Shavuot, where we see a strong woman against a patriarchal society. The great thing about the Torah is that, just when you think it’s sexist, it turns around and gives you a swift kick in the right direction.