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Friday, May 29

The Weekly Shtikle - Naso

This week's parsha includes extensive discussions of the laws pertaining to the sotah and the nazir, one after the other. Their respective tractates of gemara, aptly named Nazir and Sotah, also appear side by side, although in the opposite order. The juxtaposition of these two topics is discussed in the gemara at the beginning of maseches Sotah. Rebbi would say that anyone who is present and witnesses the public humiliation of the sotah should make sure he is not adversely affected by his experience and restrict himself from drinking wine, one of the principal requirements of the nazir. Refraining from wine will make sure that any impure thoughts do not translate into indecent behaviour.


Perhaps another understanding may be offered. Sotah represents the epitome of reckless conduct, a blatant disregard for the sanctity of the marriage bond. Although there are many other instances of sinful behaviour in the Torah, this is elaborated upon in much greater depth. Perhaps more importantly, it impresses upon us how seemingly innocent conversation between a man and woman has the potential to lead to destructive consequences. Sotah symbolizes brazen disregard of Torah values.


Nazir, however, is at the other end of the spectrum. The nazir abstains from (some of) the pleasures of this world and leads a life of extreme holiness. Although curbing one's level of indulgence is often looked upon as commendable, the practice of nazir is surprisingly not. The gemara, on a number of occasions (Taanis 11a, Nedarim 10a, Nazir 19a, 22a, Bava Kamma 91b) dwells on the pasuk in this week's parsha, concerning the nazir's sacrifices, "and it shall atone for him from that which he sinned on the soul." What sin did the nazir commit? R' Elazar HaKefar teaches that his sin was that he caused himself undue anguish in refraining from wine. And if one is called a sinner for merely refraining from wine, all the more so one who restricts himself excessively from all other pleasures.


With this perspective, sotah and nazir represent the two extremes of behaviour discouraged by the Torah. The sotah is one who is overindulgent and runs after pleasure. The nazir is one who withdraws himself from pleasure and inflicts upon himself excessive suffering. By putting the two side by side, the Torah is impressing upon us the importance of following the middle path. While we are required to do our utmost to avoid the temptations of indulgence, we must not do so by completely withdrawing from the pleasures of this world. The Torah does not favour extremism in either direction. As it is said, (Devarim 5:29) "And you shall be watchful to do as HaShem your God has commanded you, do not stray to the right or to the left." Do not act liberally with respect to Torah and mitzvos, but be not overly conservative in your observance.


This idea is also supported linguistically as the words chosen for these two diametrically opposite individuals are in fact quite similar. As Rashi (5:12) explains, the basic understanding of the word sotah is one who turns away, deviates from the path of modesty and from her responsibilities as a married individual. Nazir, as well, means one who is separated. Not only has he detached himself from this-worldly pleasures, he has removed himself from the conventional ways of the world. Indeed, the Torah has classified both of these individuals as deviants of sorts.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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