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Torah Attitude: Parashas Nasso: Use them or lose them
Two unique themes are strangely juxtaposed: "Sotah" and "Nazirite". The Sotah is suspected of having committed adultery. The Nazirite voluntarily refrains from drinking wine, cutting hair and having contact with the dead. Substance abuse is closely related to immorality. High levels of fear, awe and love are quickly lost if not internalized. Whoever sees the Hand of G'd has an opportunity to utilize it for personal growth. It is incumbent on each of us to raise our spiritual levels.
This week's Torah portion presents two unique themes that are strangely juxtaposed. One is the "Sotah". The other is the "Nazirite". The Sotah is a woman who has been warned in advance by her husband not to be alone in the company of a particular man. If the woman ignores the warning and is suspected of having committed adultery with this man, the Torah describes a miraculous method of resolving the concern of whether the adultery occurred or not. The woman was given special water to drink in the Temple by a Kohen. If she was an adulterer, she suffered a horrible death where she bloated with the water until she "exploded". If she was not an adulterer, she walked away totally absolved of any suspicion.
Nazirs voluntarily decided to elevate themselves for a period of at least 30 days by refraining from drinking wine, cutting hair, and avoiding contact with any impurity connected with death. After the designated time, Nazirs would return to their regular lifestyle.
What's the connection?
Why does the Torah describe the Sotah immediately followed by the Nazir? What's the connection? Our Sages (Sotah 2a) say that whoever sees the death of the Sotah, should refrain from drinking wine. Rashi explains that the reason for this is that excessive use of wine, as any substance abuse, is closely related to immorality. This answer at first appears to be very strange. We would assume that a person who does not see the Divine punishment of the Sotah would be the more appropriate candidate to refrain from wine as a reminder to be cautious. Why is the one who views the miracle first hand required to become a Nazir?
The Ramban teaches us an extremely important lesson about the psychology of human behaviour. A person may experience a very sensational miracle, or may for another reason be strongly impacted emotionally and spiritually. This person may reach a high level of fear and awe, or a love for G'd. However, if one does not immediately utilize the experience to transform it into a part of one's psyche, the experience is quickly lost. Unless one takes upon oneself to do something to internalize the experience, the effect disappears.
During the 6-Day War, many Israeli soldiers came back from the front lines with miraculous stories of being saved from certain death. The whole world was in awe when the missiles from the Gulf War exploded in Israel with almost no direct casualties. Even today, with terrorist acts ripping away at Israeli society, there have been numerous incidents when the destruction could have been much worse, and miraculously relatively few people were hurt than normally expected from such powerful bombs.
Unfortunately, many of us have not taken the opportunity to capture these miracles into our inner psyches. The Ramban says that when a person realizes and sees the hand of G'd, there is a potential for this spiritual elevation to be used as a vehicle for growth to receive the blessing of G'd. But a blessing needs a vessel to receive it. Only if people utilize opportunities by transforming strong feelings into action, will they merit to change and to receive Divine blessing. Whoever sees the Hand of G'd has an opportunity to utilize it for personal growth. But the opportunity must be used immediately or it will be lost forever.
Those who saw the punishment of the Sotah saw the Hand of G'd. Our Sages explain that the Torah advices to use this opportunity to become a Nazirite to elevate oneself to higher spiritual heights. This way the experience would be transformed into a lasting change.
Once a Nazir
After the period of refrain ends, in most cases after just 30 days, the Nazirite brings different offerings. The Torah states (Bamidbar 6:20) "then the "Nazirite may drink wine." If the Nazirite is no longer a Nazir after this time, why does the Torah still refer to this person as a Nazirite? The answer is that after having gone through the period of holiness, the Nazirite is now ready to go back into the daily life on a higher spiritual level. G'd created the world for our pleasure. G'd does not wish to have us refrain from living pleasurable lives within the parameters of the Torah. We are not expected to live the life of a Nazir in general. Although the Nazirite is considered holy for undertaking these extra restrictions, there is also an aspect of sin involved in restricting oneself from what is permitted. So the Nazirite goes back into the normal lifestyle in the elevated state of someone who was a Nazir. That is why this person is still referred to as a Nazirite.
We also may have situations where we stand in awe of our experiences, past and present. We must realize that these are Divine opportunities to help us grow and fulfill our potential. The only way to accomplish this is to turn our excitement into practical action. We are not expected to become Nazirs, but it is incumbent on each of us to seize the opportunities to raise our spiritual levels and to strengthen our relationships with G'd and our fellow humans.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network