Messianic Education Trust
(Num 4:21 - 7:89)

B'Midbar/Numbers 5:6   A man or a woman, when they do any of the sins of mankind, to break faith against the L-rd ...

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

The third aliyah in parashat Naso starts a section of rules that remind the Israelites about the way the community is supposed to behave. It might be summed up as regulations for camp purity. Following the first block (B'Midbar 5:1-4) mandating the removal from the camp of those who are physically impure, this text starts a second block dealing with those who sin against other people in the camp community. While the words of the text - - have the simple translation above, echoed by Who Is ...

Chizkuni: Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah (13th century), French rabbi and exegete; his commentary on the Torah was written about 1240 in memory of his father, based principally on Rashi, but using about 20 other sources
Chizkuni, "any sin that men commit", the Jewish tradition limits these sins to "those trespasses listed in Vayikra 5:21-22" ( Who Is ...

The Rashbam: Rabbi Samuel ben Asher (1085-1174 CE), a grandson of Rashi; lived in Northern France; worked from the plain meaning of the Hebrew text even when this contradicted established rabbinic interpretaton
Rashbam). The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno is very specific: "Tradition teaches that this verse refers to robbery of a proselyte, for indeed, if one robs him he profanes the Name of his G-d in the eyes of the proselyte who came to find protection under His wings." Jacob Milgrom suggests that there are two prerequisites to this offence: defrauding his fellow and committing sacrilege against G-d by means of a false oath. Gordon Wenham agrees, commenting that "someone has acquired goods that he has no right to and has then denied his offence under oath. By doing so he is breaking faith with the L-rd as well as sinning against his neighbour."1

The last phrase of the text contains both a verb and a noun from the same three-letter root. The verb, is the Qal infinitive construct from the root . David Clines gives its meanings as "to sin, commit (sin), be sinful, transgress, especially commit sacrilege" and notes that it often takes - as here - a cognate object - that is, an object from the same root base.2 The noun, immediately following the verb, , has meanings "sin, sinfulness, transgression, especially sacrilege". Taken together, they read: to sin a sin, or, to sacrilege a sacrilege. The last word in the text then uses the prefix pronoun to indicate against whom the offence is being committed: , The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem! As the people are bound in a covenant with HaShem, to obey His commands and be His people, this amounts to breaking faith or relationship with Him, as Dennis Olson makes clear: "Harming or unjustly taking from another person in the community is an act of human injustice, but it is also an act that breaks the relationship with G-d. This moral guilt, like ritual impurity, also threatens the holiness of the community."3 Even Moshe and Aharon caused a breach of this kind as HaShem reminds Moshe using the same word on the last day of his life: "you both broke faith with Me among the Israelite people, at the waters of Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, by failing to uphold My sanctity among the Israelite people" (D'varim 32:51, NJPS).

Looking now at the first few words of the verse, we can see who is obligated to obey the underlying commandments. The phrase uses the generic terms for a man and a woman, a male and a female. The conjunction , translated 'or' is the binary logic function: one, or the other, or both, The active verb of the whole text - the Qal 3cp prefix form of the root , to make or do - follows the normal gender rules4 and is masculine plural, "they do", but the first phrase makes it quite clear that bad behaviour by either gender is a sin before G-d and constitutes sacrilege before him. This is a very significant verse for Jewish jurisprudence, as Rabbi Hirsch proclaims, "thereby the great far-reaching principle in law is given: the Torah holds men and women in equal responsibility for all transgressions against the law" and points to one of the definitive places where the Sages discuss this:

Rabbi Judah said on behalf of Rab, and so was it also taught at the school of Rabbi Ishmael: Scripture states, "When a man or woman shall commit any sin" (B'Midbar 5:6). Scripture has thus made woman and man equal regarding all the penalties of the Law. In the School of Eleazar it was taught: "These are the rules that you shall set before them" (Shemot 21:1, NJPS). Scripture has thus made woman and man equal regarding all the judgments of the Law. The School of Hezekiah and Jose the Galilean taught: Scripture says, "and it kills a man or a woman" (Shemot 21:29). Scripture has thus made woman and man equal regarding all the laws of manslaughter in the Torah" (b. Bava Kama 15a).

The Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Ramban says that " 'woman' is specifically mentioned because this sort of crime is not usual among them, and we might have thought the text did not mean to obligate them." Jewish tradition excuses women from having to observe many of the time-constrained commandments, but not keeping a commandment from which you have been released is quite a different matter from breaking a commandment to which you are fully obligated. Dennis Cole agrees: "Responsibility for reparation because of wrong done against another individual falls equally upon the human genders: man and woman are equally accountable to G-d for their sin. Anyone who sins against another person effectively commits a sacrilege against G-d."5

We shouldn't find this strong gender-neutrality in the Torah surprising. After all, the Bible is very consistent - in both parts - that sin is a universal problem. Solomon records that "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20, ESV), while Rav Sha'ul affirms that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d" (Romans 3:23, ESV). Lest we think that this is simply something that happens - an inevitable result of being human - the prophet tells us that "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned -- every one -- to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6, ESV). Mankind - each man and woman - chooses to do things their way rather than G-d's way and turn away from obeying Him. The Torah offers a solution in the verses following our text: confess the sin, make reparation including a premium to the people involved and offer a guilt offering to HaShem. But, as the writer to the Hebrews points out, the sacrifices have to be offered time and again, firstly because people keep on sinning and, secondly, because "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4, ESV); they simply provided a covering until Yeshua came: "when Messiah had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of G-d" (10:12, ESV).

As the problem of sin is universal, so the remedy also has to be universal. Rav Sha'ul reminds the Galatians that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua" (Galatians 3:28, NASB). Just as Jew and Gentile sin, just as slaves and free men sin, just as men and women sin - for there is no difference between any of them in this respect - they all find forgiveness and reconciliation with G-d in Messiah Yeshua. Having been forgiven, they all stand together as children of G-d, as sons and daughters of the King, as brothers and sisters of Yeshua, in Yeshua!

Next, we need to recognise that while men, women and children fit into normal family structures and that those families and their relationships are governed by Scriptural mandates applied and mediated by the Spirit according to the strengths, weaknesses and needs of each family member, Yeshua didn't come just for men or just for normal male-headed households. He came that "whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16, NASB); and 'whoever' includes every man, woman and child whatever family structure they may or may not be in and without regard or respect for any other member of those families. We are all invited to become a part of the kingdom of G-d in Yeshua: "as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (1:12, NASB). This does not depend on gender, race, colour, age or status in any way.

Going back to our text, it describes anyone - be they male or female - who commits sin and so spoils their relationship with G-d. John writes important words that help that 'anyone' to move forward and get that relationship restored: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, NASB). This 'solution' applies to men and women alike; the entire block of verses from which this is drawn - verses 5-10 - doesn't contain a single gendered pronoun except for G-d. All the references to people are first person plural: us and we. Whoever has sinned may confess their sin and be forgiven. Forgiveness and cleansing are promised equally, exactly and without qualification to the same men and women who have sinned. God is reaching out to everyone!

1. - Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers TOTC, (Nottingham, IVP, 1981), page 89.

2. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 234.

3. - Dennis T. Olson, Numbers Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 34.

4. - The normal rules for all the biblical languages are that a plural form will be feminine if and only if the entire group is feminine; if the group is male or if there is even as few as one man in a mixed group, then plural verbs will take a masculine form.

5. - R. Dennis Cole, Numbers The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 111.

Further Study: Psalm 32:4-5; Proverbs 28:13-14; Titus 2:11-15

Application: Do you struggle to find acceptance with G-d because you are a man or woman rather than the other? Know that God's love and forgiveness are fully available for you, right here and now. Don't waste a moment in getting before touch with Him: repent, confess and know that you are fully forgiven and accepted in Yeshua.

Comment - 23:18 31May20 Edward Bishop Sr: Unfortunately, many people have baggage they bring with the as they fall before Hashem. This is as it should be to each soul. More often than not, they rise to new life in Yeshua only to pickup the old baggage and continue to carry it.

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© Jonathan Allen, 2020

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