In Essays

Parsha Nasso | Guilt, Confession, and Restitution

Black Lives Matter protest
Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash

Explore Jewish heritage with an amateur Jew’s commentary on Parsha Nasso, Numbers 4:21 – 7:89. Click here to read the previous portion, Parsha Bamidbar.

Something that used to annoy me about religious folks is when they cherry-pick a nice verse to make their point even when that verse is surrounded by objective craziness.

I’m going to do just that right now because I think this verse offers a pretty simple blueprint of how white people can work to be proper allies to the Black Lives Matter movement and those facing police brutality in the ongoing protests.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward fellow man, thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged.”

  • Realize guilt
  • Confess the wrong
  • Make restitution –– and add one-fifth to it

There. There’s your blueprint for being an ally, my fellow melanin-deficient friends.

Of course, this thoughtful verse is surrounded by instructions for removing someone from camp with “an eruption or a discharge” and how a jealous man should deal with his wife if he suspects that she has “gone astray” even if she hasn’t. Like I said, sometimes thoughtful verses are surrounded by objective nonsense.

But I don’t feel like being snarky right now. This Parsha comes a good week into the ongoing protests over George Floyd’s murder. I can’t help but think of how my home country, nearly 244 years in, has yet to “make restitution” for the historic evil of slavery. Hell, a lot of white people are just now realizing their guilt in either perpetuating a system of white supremacy or in not being actively anti-racist.

It’s something I think about rather often, living in a country that is swimming in memory culture over the atrocities of the 21st Century. I’m always wondering how different the U.S. would be if there were more academic and physical manifestations acknowledging stolen lands, genocide, and racial injustices over the centuries.

Even if there weren’t protests going on across the country and Europe over racial injustice, I imagine this verse would still bring to mind the rampant racial inequality that exists in my home country and the world over.

It feels like eons ago, but the topic of slavery reparations popped up in the Democratic Primaries. I find it interesting that many politicians who would call themselves a believer in this text would also say they’re against reparations. When in reality, not only does this verse seem to support reparations but it’s saying to add one-fifth on top of what’s due.

I won’t pretend to know the answer and we certainly don’t need another white guy pontificating about what the right thing to do is, sweating over what to post on social media to make it clear that I’m one of the good guys. Instead, I’m happy to take this time to read, learn, listen, and amplify voices in any way I can––and donate to causes supporting those fighting for equality back home.

Shabbat shalom.

Onward with Parsha Beha’alotcha.

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