In Parshat Naso, this week’s Torah portion, two seemingly unrelated topics appear right next to one another. The first topic is about giving gifts to the priests (Numbers 5:9-10) and the second topic is about a jealous husband who suspects his wife of cheating without any real proof (Numbers 5:11-31).
Searching for literary continuity between these themes, the Talmud (Brakhot 63a) asks what the relationship is between these two topics. It explains that one who separates taxes for the priest but does not givethem will eventually need the priest to perform an elaborate ceremony to settle the issue of the jealous husband. It is not obvious from the Talmud if this is the result of Divine punishment for not giving taxes to the priest or a warning about souring a relationship on whom one might later come to rely.
However, I would like to suggest it is a lesson on the intertwined nature between the relationship of a community and its leadership and the relationship among the individuals of that community. The Talmud never assigns all or any of the blame on the non-priest. Perhaps both the priest and the non-priest share in the blame. It is the priest’s job to approach non-priests to collect taxes and the non-priests are permitted to give their taxes to whichever priest they like. The priest cannot force people to give to him in particular. Rather, the priest must cultivate the proper relationship with the people so that they give over their taxes willingly. The Torah’s lesson for us is that a leader who fails to properly cultivate relationships with the community has a partial hand in causing breakdowns in relationships among the lay people as well.
This sets a goal for me as I step into the job as your community’s religious leader: to recall the awesome responsibility the Torah puts upon religious leadership. A religious leader cannot take all the credit or the blame for the community they lead. Like the priest whose job it is to ensure people properly pay their taxes but is not permitted to force any hands, the job of a religious leader is neither to allow people to be remiss in their religious connections, nor is it to coerce people in their religious duties. Instead, it is to create relationships that encourage the community religiously. To do so can also help to create not just a strong religious community, but a strong community as a community.
May God grant me the strength to live up to this awesome responsibility and help me to continue to allow and encourage the amazing Jewish community in Hull to thrive.
שבת שלומ - Shabbat Shalom
Reb Joel Goldstein