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 Parshas Nasso - Vol. 2, Issue 29

V’heivee es korbanah aleha aseeris ha’eifah kemach s’orim lo yitzok alav shemen v’lo yitein alav levonah ki minchas kina’os hu minchas zikaron mazkeres avon (5:15)

            The offering to be brought on behalf of the sotah is unique in several respects. The Torah states that the meal-offering shall be brought from barley flour instead of from wheat flour, and that it shall have neither oil nor frankincense in it. Rashi, quoting the Gemora in Sotah (15a-b), explains that these unique requirements are symbolic comments on the actions of the suspected adulteress. Her offering is to be brought from coarse flour, because she acted coarsely, which is made from barley, which is normally used as animal feed, because she acted in a degrading, animalistic manner.

Although other meal-offerings are typically beautified with oil and frankincense (see Vayikra 2:1), her offering contains neither, as oil symbolizes light, while she acted in darkness in an attempt to conceal her sin. Frankincense represents the righteousness of the Matriarchs, but she veered from their path of piety and neglected to follow their example.

            Rav Ben-Tzion Brook derives from here a refutation of a mistaken, but widespread, attitude. A person commonly presumes that after death, he will be judged by the Heavenly Court based on the level he reached during his lifetime. He assumes that he will be rewarded for his good deeds and punished for his sins, but never does he entertain the possibility that he will be held to the strict standards of the righteous Chofetz Chaim, who grew to reach levels in piety unthinkable for the average person.

However, Rashi teaches us that at the same time that the immodest woman, suspected of adultery after secluding herself in the presence of witnesses with a man her husband warned her to avoid, is punished for acting like a lowly animal by requiring her offering to be brought from barley flour, she is simultaneously held accountable for her failure to reach the incredibly high levels attained by the Matriarchs through the Torah’s restriction against the inclusion of frankincense in her offering.

            In the class taught by Rav Shimshon Pinkus on the night of his tragic death, he related that he was once giving a lecture in South Africa about the importance of growth and change in the life of a Jew. After the lecture, a man came over to ask for guidance, as no matter how hard he seemed to try to implement a regimen of daily Torah study, he never seemed to succeed.

Rav Pinkus answered him with a beautiful parable: when a person drives a stick-shift car, he starts out in 1st gear and accelerates until he reaches a certain speed, at which point he switches to 2nd gear, until he again reaches a speed which requires him to shift to 3rd gear, but if the driver will attempt to continue accelerating while remaining in 1st gear, he will eventually overheat his engine.

Similarly, Rav Pinkus noted that while he has his own personal challenges in spirituality, finding time to learn Torah every day isn’t among them. Because his mind was in “Rabbinical gear,” the idea of passing a day without learning Torah was unthinkable. This man, however, was stuck in “spiritual 1st gear,” which meant that every time he attempted to “accelerate” his Torah study, his engine “overheated” and the project was doomed to failure. Rather than redouble his efforts to fit Torah study into his daily routine, Rav Pinkus suggested the better approach would be to switch his entire self-view by shifting into spiritual 2nd gear, at which point the Torah study regimen would naturally fall into place as conducive with his new self-image.

A person spends his time in this world trying to improve his ways; according to his level, he attempts to do more of the things he knows he should and to refrain from the actions he knows are beneath him. The lesson of the sotah, however, is that a person is required to “shift gears,” raise the spiritual bar, and set his sights even higher than he presently thinks feasible, as Chazal teach us in Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu (25): every single Jew is obligated to say, “When will my actions reach the level of the actions of my Forefathers Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov?”


Ish o isha ki yaflee lindor neder nazir l’hazir l’Hashem (6:2)
Yaflee – yafrish o ya’aseh Davar pela ki rov haolam holchim achar ta’avosam (Ibn Ezra)

            A nazir is a person who accepts upon himself three prohibitions: not to cut his hair, not to consume wine or grape products, and not to come into contact with the dead. While it would seem that these are relatively minor and mundane restrictions, Rav Yehuda Zev Segal, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, notes that we find spectacular concepts associated with the nazir. The word nazir itself is derived from the root nezer – a crown. What is the connection between one who takes a Nazirite vow and a crown?

Further, one of the restrictions upon a nazir is his inability to come into contact with the dead. The Ba’al HaTurim explains that this is because the nazir may merit Divine Inspiration, and people may attribute this ability to impure and forbidden sources such as the dead. Why should a person who refrains from the three aforementioned activities suddenly merit Divine Inspiration?

            Rav Segal suggests that the answer lies in the words of the Ibn Ezra, who suggests that the word connoting the nazir’s separation from these three activities (yaflee) is rooted in the word pela – wonder – and explains that the actions of the nazir are indeed considered peculiar and full of wonder in the eyes of others. Most people are accustomed to innately following their earthly desires without a second thought as to keeping them in check. The idea of a person voluntarily and willfully relinquishing physical pleasures runs counter to socially accepted norms and is indeed a wonder. Through his willingness to do what is right and to take action to curb his desires, even though it runs counter to societal pressures, he becomes a king over them and merits a spiritual crown, to the point that he may even merit Divine Inspiration!

            Nevertheless, the Darkei Mussar and Rav Shalom Levin question why he should merit such great rewards for such an objectively minor action. They explain that while human nature is to evaluate actions quantitatively and to assume that larger actions are indeed superior, in Heaven actions are judged by their qualitative purity. Although the nazir still lives in the physical world and has only accepted three “minor” prohibitions on himself, if he does so for the sake of Heaven, he may indeed receive Divine Inspiration.

The Darkei Mussar notes that although Avrohom Avinu was known for his frequent hospitality to guests, the Torah records only one such episode (see Bereishis 18) while merely hinting to the other occurrences by making reference (Bereishis 21:33) to his planting an aishel (which is an abbreviation for eating, drinking, and escorting). He suggests that while the other episodes may have been done publicly, the encounter with the angels disguised as Arab travelers on a hot day was done privately and therefore reveals a purity of spirit not clearly evident from any other incidents.

            The Gemora is replete with laws and teachings derived from seemingly superfluous words and even letters used in the Torah, based on the concept that the Torah doesn’t write even a single letter unnecessarily. It is therefore difficult to understand why the Torah repeats at excruciating length the offerings brought by each of the 12 tribal leaders, when they were all identical one to the other. It would have been much more concise to list the offering brought on the first day and to add that each subsequent leader brought the same offering on the succeeding days.

Rav Dovid Povarsky suggests that although each leader brought the identical offering, he did so after deciding what the right thing for him to do was and proceeding to do so without looking around to see what others were doing. Similarly, the lesson of the nazir is that if we do what we know is right, regardless of what other people will say or think, no matter how “small” the action may seem on Earth, in Heaven we will be considered kings and the rewards will be great.


Vay’hee bayom kalos Moshe l’hakim es haMishkan (7:1)

In Shir HaShirim (3:11), Shlomo HaMelech refers to an event which occurred b’yom chasunaso ub’yom simchas libo – on the day of his wedding and on the day of his heart’s rejoicing. The Mishnah in Taanis (4:8) homiletically interprets the wedding day as referring to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which represents the wedding between Hashem and the Jewish people, and the day of the heart’s happiness as referring to the building of the Beis HaMikdash.

Rav Shach explains the comparison by questioning how Shlomo could refer to the day of his heart’s gladness separately from his wedding day, implying that he didn’t rejoice at his own wedding. He answers that although Shlomo was certainly happy when he married, his joy was limited to the extent that he knew his bride and recognized her positive qualities. Many people get engaged after dating for a few short weeks or months and get married following an engagement of not much longer.

This may be a sufficient amount of time to determine that one has found his life partner. However, this period, due to its brevity and the unnatural relationship that exists, isn’t conducive to fully appreciating the greatness of one’s fiancé or to form a relationship based on trust and understanding.

It is only through years of living together, raising a family, and jointly confronting life’s challenges that a person comes to a real awareness of the wonderful decision he made in choosing his spouse. While it is unlikely that any event will ever bring the joy that one felt at his wedding, Shlomo is hinting that the lasting period of deep inner happiness resulting from a genuine bond lies in the future.

Similarly, at Mount Sinai the Jewish people demonstrated great faith in their “Groom” (Hashem) by unanimously declaring (24:7) na’aseh v’nishma – we will do and we will listen. They committed themselves to doing His will without even knowing what it is and were rewarded by being selected as His chosen people for all time.

Nevertheless, there was a certain lacking in the closeness of the bond. The bride hadn’t yet recognized the greatness of the Groom. It was only after the wedding, when Moshe taught them the mitzvos and they began to perform them, that a deeper relationship began to develop.

The pinnacle of that closeness came when the bride built a magnificent dwelling place where she could come to draw near to her Groom. This allowed for a full recognition of her tremendous fortune in being selected as Hashem’s bride. As the Ramban writes in his introduction to Sefer Shemos, the Mishkan was the spiritual culmination of the Exodus from Egypt. The relationship which began centuries earlier with Avrohom Avinu and continued through the Exodus and the “marriage” at Mount Sinai was finally consummated with the event which brought true rejoicing to our hearts.


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)      The Gemora in Pesachim (67b) derives from 5:2 that any man who is impure due to marital relations must be sent out of two camps, namely the camp of the Divine Presence and the camp of the Levites. How were the Levites ever permitted to have relations with their wives, as this would render them impure and forbidden to be present in their encampment? (Shu”t Tashbatz 3:137, Meshech Chochma and Shiras Dovid 1:53, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)

2)      The Torah requires (5:6-7) a person who has stolen not only to return the stolen item but also to confess his sin to Hashem. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 1:1) derives from here that confession is an integral part of the repentance process for any sin which one has committed. Why did the Torah teach this obligation in regard to this specific sin? (Chiddushei HaRim, Taam V’Daas)

3)      Rashi quotes (6:2) the Gemora in Sotah (2a), which explains the juxtaposition between the portions dealing with the laws of the sotah and the laws of the nazir as coming to teach that one who sees the sotah in her degrades state should become a nazir and forbid to himself the wine which causes adultery. If the purpose of the Nazirite vow is to distance oneself from the negative consequences associated with intoxicating beverages, why is a nazir permitted to drink other alcoholic spirits but forbidden to drink grape juice? (Darash Moshe)

4)      A person may fulfill many of his legal obligations through the principle of shomei’ah k’oneh – one who hears the recitation of another with the intent to fulfill his obligation is considered to have actually made the recitation himself. May a Kohen fulfill his obligation to bless the people by listening to the Priestly Blessing recited by another Kohen? (Beis HaLevi, Ohr Someach, Chazon Ish, Zahav MiSh’va, K’motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

5)      The Haftorah for Parshas Nasso contains the miraculous story of the birth of Shimshon, and the angel’s instructions to his parents that he is to be raised as a nazir. The verses state explicitly that his father’s name was Manoach; what was his mother’s name? (Bava Basra 91a)

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