The importance of ‘Shalom Bayit’

By Rabbi Dale Schreiber

Naso is the longest portion in the weekly readings of Torah with 176 verses. After detailing the priestly purpose in the book of Leviticus, we come to the Book of Numbers and guess what? The first two portions begin with a census. Naso begins with an invitation to “lift the heads of” or quite literally number all the Levites, family by family, between the ages of 30 and 50. The Levites are assigned specific work in assembling, carrying, and dismantling the desert sanctuary as they move through the wilderness.

If the work is done to specification, then God’s Presence will descend into the Tent of Meeting and God’s Blessing will flow through individuals and into the community. Naso appears right after Shavuot, the symbolic union and re-union between God and the Jewish People. The Torah is the wedding contract and its’ blessings are evident as Jews — both men and women, have used its wisdom to sustain a timeless and transformative relationship for more than 3,000 years.

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Included in this week’s story is the troubling situation of the Sotah followed by the powerful Priestly Benediction. The Sotah is the woman accused by her enraged husband of sexual impropriety. While much commentary is assigned to the accused woman, the primary challenge, as I see it, is her husband.

In this story, it is the husband’s anger and accusations that pose a serious risk to the community. Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin (19th century) taught that God wished to give humans an abundance of blessings in the world. Blessings could only be received, he wrote, where harmony and love create the receptivity in the community being blessed. The Rabbis believed that studying Torah led to a working knowledge of the world. They also taught that without reason, there could be no understanding and vice versa.

The disruption to the community by an enraged and perceptively impaired husband is definitely not conducive to receiving blessings. In fact, such behaviors (stealing the peace) are categorized as stealing the Blessing from God. In order to make restitution and to reclaim the Blessing, both reason and understanding must be restored.

The peace is restored through a ritual that allows the husband to move from a suspicious frame of mind to one that restores faith in his partner’s fidelity. Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) is an ideal in rabbinic literature. The concept of Shalom Bayit is so important, that the Torah permits the Holy Name to be erased in water during the Sotah ritual. The harmony necessary to restore God’s Blessing is the ultimate goal.

With peace restored, the Blessing is a gift that can now flow into the lives of the community: May God’s Blessing be a Source of Protection for each of you; May the Holy One’s Shining Presence illuminate your way, your walk, your work; May the Holy Blessed One be a source of strength, comfort, and nourishment so that shalom, the wholeness, peace and healing that is possible becomes evident in your life.

Torah teaches us not only who we are, but who we can become. May our efforts to harmonize our human natures with our potential for goodness bring us to reason and understanding, holiness and peace.

Rabbi Dale Schreiber is Jewish Care Coordinator of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Chaplain to Oncology Services.