This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
נָשֹׂא ~ Nasso
“Sotah to Nazir; Balance Restored”
One of the more disturbing law topics in the Torah is that of the Sotah, or the wayward wife who betrays her husband and breaches her marriage by having relations with another man [B’Midbar 5]. Parshas Nasso describes what we’ll call the “Sotah trial,” in which the Sotah-in-question is led through a procedure officiated by the Kohein (Priest) who ultimately prescribes a curse for a grotesque death that should befall her in the event that she cheated on her husband. At the climax of the trial, if we could use such a term, the Kohein erases the curses into a bitter potion and makes the woman drink it, after which, the effects of the curse may take place.
But the Sotah is not the only odd “personality” we’re introduced to in Parshas Nasso. On the other extreme, we have the Sotah’s “partner Parshah,” that of the Nazir [B’Midbar 6].
The Nazir, as described in the subsequent passage, is the individual who makes a temporary pledge of abstinence from wine, all ritual impurity, and even haircuts, all for the sake of getting closer to Hashem.
Very clearly, the Nazir is the foil to the Sotah as the Nazir represents self-control, commitment, and purity, whereas the Sotah exemplifies lack of self-restraint, breach of commitment, and engaging in impurity. Bearing this obvious contrast in mind, it should be no wonder why the Torah juxtaposed the two topics. The problem is that this obvious answer is not the one provided by Chazzal. Though it seems like a no-brainer that the the Sotah and the Nazir represent opposite extremes—which they do—Chazzal take the relationship between Sotah and Nazir a step further. The juxtaposition, explain Chazzal, is telling us that one who sees the degradation of the Sotah should abstain from wine by becoming a Nazir, because wine brings a person to levity, and levity is a precursor to all sin, such as adultery [See Rashi to 6:2 citing Sotah 2A and B’Midbar Rabbah 10:2-4]. The question is why Chazzal had to go this far. Is it not enough to suggest that Sotah and Nazir are placed together because they thematically represent two opposite extremes? Why do we need to suggest that Nazir is a direct response to seeing a Sotah? Moreover, the more often asked question is: Is it really necessary for the person who sees a Sotah to become a Nazir? If there is any individual who should not have to worry about levity and the sin of adultery, it would be the person who witnessed what the Sotah went through. It seems rather extreme, then, to make such a person take upon more responsibility and become a Nazir. So, where do Chazzal get off suggesting such extreme measures?
As undoubtedly unique and odd as the Sotah trial seems, Parshas Nasso is not even the first place where such a procedure was featured in the Torah. If one looks back in Parshas Ki Sisa, right after the B’nei Yisrael were caught worshipping the Golden Calf, the Torah tells us explicitly that Moshe burned the molten calf, ground it up, and actually made the B’nei Yisrael drink it [Shemos 32:20]! There, Chazzal tell us that Moshe intended to test the people using the format of the Sotah trial [Rashi there citing Avodah Zarah 44A]!
The relationship between the actions of the Sotah and those of the B’nei Yisrael at the scene of the Cheit HaEigel (Sin of the Calf) is simple to understand, for adultery and idolatry, besides for sounding alike, both represent the concept of breaching a commitment, one between man and wife, and the other between the B’nei Yisrael and Hashem. Thus, at the scene of the Eigel, the B’nei Yisrael, as it were, cheated on G-d, and as a result, the Tablets of the covenant were shattered symbolizing the tearing of their marriage document. And then, just like the Sotah, the B’nei Yisrael were made to drink the object of the “curse” which they had brought upon themselves.
The question is how such an offence against the “spouse,” whether a woman against her husband or the B’nei Yisrael against Hashem, could be committed. Was there no legitimacy to the commitment that the woman made to her husband when they got married? Did the covenant at Har Sinai, sealed with the faithful words “Na’aseh V’Nishma”-“We will do and we will listen” [Shemos 24:7] mean absolutely nothing?
The answer is that, of course, there was legitimacy to each of those commitments, however, after time, if people are not careful, the Evil Inclination catches up, taking even the most loyal individuals by surprise.
The question then is what happens after that. Yes, the Evil Inclination struck and perhaps we can sympathize on some level, but that does not mean that the relationship can just go on. When the very foundation of commitment—the trust—has been breached, how can one recover the balance of that relationship and spare it for the future? How could the relationship not be completely ruined forever?
Using the scene of the Golden Calf as the model and precedent for the laws of the Sotah, perhaps we might suggest that the key to recovering the covenant and relationship, in either situation, has to do with the extra measures that were taken immediately after the disgraceful offence.
In order to understand those measures, let’s consider the nature of the imbalance that was created by the offence in the first place.
So, what was it exactly that the B’nei Yisrael accomplished when they worshipped the Golden Calf? As was mentioned, they did not just commit a sin, but they breached a relationship. Thus, they went from their spiritual peak back to the bottom of the heap. From the perspective of the Jewish calendar, we might say that they went from their Shavuos and Kabbalas HaTorah back to their spiritual impurity which they had been wallowing in before Pesach—before they had even been freed from Egypt. Because, indeed, when trust is breached, as high up as they were, that’s how hard they had fallen. Thus, the Sotah represents a regression from the original commitment of Shavuos back to uncivility and lawlessness. That might explain why the offering of the Sotah, like the Korban Omer on the second day of Pesach, is brought from barley, animal food. The Sotah brings the relationship back to that early stage.
So, what would be next for the B’nei Yisrael? Moshe Rabbeinu would lead the B’nei Yisrael in their first Yom Kippur, the ultimate state of abstinence—no eating and drinking—for the sake of mending their relationship with Hashem and recover what they had lost. Why did that help? Because although their Sotah-like offence had such major ramifications, the national abstinence was a step above and beyond, an expression of higher commitment and a newfound devotion to Hashem. Of course, this abstinence would not last forever—no one can live Yom Kippur every day. However, this jump to the opposite, positive extreme shows the effort and willingness for the nation as a whole to regain what they had lost. It was this jump that permitted Hashem to give Moshe the second pair of Luchos (Tablets) on that first Yom Kippur!
That abstinence and pursuit of extra spirituality and purity, we might suggest, is the basis for what Chazzal say about the juxtaposition between Sotah and Nazir, that the only reasonable response to the Sotah experience has to be a pledge for Nezirus, a pledge to do something more, to go above and beyond. Because, if Sotah represents going from Shavuos to the Cheit HaEigel, a regression to Egyptian subjugation, then Nazir represents the recovery of Yom Kippur which brings them back to their peak of Yom Kippur and restores the balance!
The juxtaposition between Sotah and Nazir goes apparently way beyond the difference between extremes. The commitments we make are only as valuable as we prove them to be through our actions. And since we humans are imperfect, without extra care and devotion, we are bound to slip up. Seeing the Sotah, no less than witnessing the spectacle of Divine Revelation at Har Sinai, is not enough to keep anyone from falling short of one’s promises. The fact that one has to take the minimal requirements of his commitments seriously should be already obvious. Nazir teaches us that that simple “understanding” and “acceptance” is not enough, but for some time, one has pledge and aspire for something more.
May we all be Zocheh to remain loyal in all of our relationships, pledge when necessary to go above and beyond for the sake of that relationship, maintain the delicate balance of those relationships, and Hashem will not only remain loyal to us, but He too should go above and beyond for us, and ultimately return us to our spiritual peak with the coming of the Geulah, in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂