Friday, June 1, 2012

Nasso - "One Who Sees a Sotah in her Disgrace..."

In Parshas Nasso we read of the laws of the sotah - the suspected adulteress - which is followed immediately by the laws of the nazir - one who accepts upon himself a special status of consecration to God. During the period of nezirus, which generally lasts 30 days, the nazir is forbidden from consuming any wine or grape products, cutting his hair, and from becoming ritually impure through contact with the body of a deceased person.

In a famous passage (quoted by Rashi), the Talmud (Sotah 2a) states:
תניא: רבי אומר, למה נסמכה פרשת נזיר לפרשת סוטה? לומר לך שכל הרואה סוטה בקלקולה יזיר עצמו מן היין.
It is taught: Rebbi said, "Why is the subject of nazir placed close to the subject of sotah? To tell you that anyone who sees a sotah in her disgrace should make himself a nazir from wine." (Rashi adds, "for wine brings one to adultery.")
Perhaps the most basic lesson we learn from this teaching is the recognition that any time we encounter sin it inevitably has a negative spiritual impact upon us, and that we need to take special steps to counter that impact. In such a situation, it may even be necessary to temporarily abstain from pleasures (such as wine) that are normally permitted. As Maimonides wrote (Hil. Deos 1) in his discussion of proper character traits, even though our ultimate goal is to follow the "middle path", it is sometimes necessary to temporarily go to an extreme in one area in order to counter-balance our inclination in the opposite direction. Similarly, in this case, when a person encounters the sin of adultery, which is rooted in self-indulgence, it is necessary for him to go to the opposite extreme of abstaining even from permissible indulgences, in order to counter-balance the negative impact of what he has witnessed.

Rav Reuvein Grozovsky (הובא בספר אמרי יצחק ממורי ורבי ר' יצחק נאבעל שליט"א) points out that we need to take this step even after we have seen the sotah "in her disgrace", i.e. after she has suffered a horrible death due to her sin. This teaches us that the knowledge of sin has a negative impact on us even when we have seen the punishment with our own eyes. We cannot rely on the emotional impact of the punishment alone to counter the negative influence of our knowledge of the sin, but we must take additional steps to protect ourselves from temptation.

R' Yeruchom Levovitz
In his discussion of this issue, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz (ספר דעת תורה, במדבר ו:ב) says that sometimes when we encounter a particularly depraved sinner we think that we have nothing in common with such behavior and that there is nothing we need to take to heart from such behavior. R' Yeruchem tells us that this is not so, "even this woman did not change into a harlot in one moment. There were many causes that brought her to this state, such as overindulgence in pleasures, excessive socializing, and similar. When one sees a harlot, one needs to learn and to consider for himself that he too is no exception from the rule, and he must be careful that he too should not come to such a downfall, God forbid!" No matter how far off a sin may seem we are never truly immune. Thus, when we encounter a sinner, we must take this message to heart and work to reinforce our resistance to sin.

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (אזנים לתורה כאן) points out that the Torah does not only prohibit wine itself, but all products related to wine or grapes (including fresh grapes and raisins). This teaches us that when we are dealing with the temptation to sin, we must take steps to separate ourselves not just from the sin itself but also from anything related to the sin. Thus, just as the nazir must refrain not just from wine itself but from everything related to wine, so too when it comes to the sin of adultery, the Torah requires us to refrain not just from the act itself but from anything related to it.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (דרש משה כאן) notes further that while the Torah prohibits all grape products, even when they have no intoxicating effect, the Torah does not prohibit a nazir from consuming intoxicating beverages that are not made from grapes. This indicates that the primary idea behind the prohibition is not to avoid the risk of sin through intoxication but simply to accept upon ourselves a higher level of holiness by abstaining from a normally permitted pleasure. (Of course, the fact that the Torah specifically prohibits wine is still indicative of a moral lesson regarding intoxication.) R' Moshe concludes that we can achieve a similar result by increasing our state of holiness through the study of Torah. He cites the statement of Maimonides (Hil. Issurei Biah 22:21) that the study of Torah has a unique power to help us restrain our sexual desires.

Perhaps we can find a deeper insight into this teaching based upon a well-known teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov (ספר הבעש"ט בראשית קכ"ג-ק"ל) taught that when God causes a person to witness, or even hear about, a sinful act, this is a sign to the witness that some element of this sin also exists within himself which he must work to rectify. From this principle we can understand that the reason why one who sees “a sotah in her disgrace” must become a nazir is not simply to counter the influence of what he has seen, but also because what he has seen is itself a sign that he needs to work on this issue.

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