This week’s portion, Naso, (Num. 4:21 – 7:89) continues the laws for the administration and organization of the Israelite camp. The editors of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary characterize chapter 5 of this parshah as “Maintaining Community Sanctity by Countering Threats of Impurity”. Four short verses of this chapter (5:5-8) describe the atonement and restitution called for by an act of ma’al, treachery.
This term is used specifically for an act of theft by deception. The perpetrator is fined the amount of the theft, plus punitive damages of one-fifth that amount. There are two specific parts to the penance; the confession and the restitution. The wrong must first be acknowledged, and only then may the monetary aspect be reconciled.
Ma’al is described in Numbers 5:6 as “committing sacrilege against the Lord”. Rabbi Harold Kushner writes in the Etz Hayim Torah commentary “To cheat a fellow Jew is not just a crime but a breach of faith with God, profaning God’s name and robbing someone of the ability to believe in the goodness of God’s world and in the decency of one’s fellow Jews.” Maintaining sanctity is not just between us and God, nor is it just between us and the person we have wronged. Every act that we do, right or wrong, resonates throughout the community in which we live.