Masei – Numbers 33:1 – 36:13 – The Torah portion (parashat ha shavuah) for Shabbat, Saturday, July 26

What is mercy? In a society of zero tolerance, do we understand nuance anymore? Our Torah is criticized for promulgating a harsh form of justice, with the death penalty for many crimes that we never consider to justify execution. But this week the Torah shows remarkable subtlety, even in the extreme case of murder. First it stipulates a difference between murder, which is intentional, and manslaughter.  Manslaughter is defined this way, “But if he pushed him without malice aforethought or hurled any object at him unintentionally, or inadvertently dropped upon him any deadly object of stone, and death resulted…” (Numbers 36:22-25) Further, a murderer, one who kills intentionally, can only be executed if convicted on the testimony of two or more witnesses, “the testimony of a single witness against a person shall not suffice for a sentence of death.” (Numbers 36:30) Thus the burden of proof in ancient Israel is higher than in our country today. Our Torah teaches us the need for discernment and understanding, even in the most difficult situations and that there are no simple solutions to society’s problems.