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Torah Attitude: Parashas Nasso: Use them or lose them


Two unique themes are strangely juxtaposed in this week's portion: "Sotah" and "Nazir". The Sotah is suspected of having committed adultery. The Nazir voluntarily refrains from drinking wine, cutting hair and having contact with the dead. Substance abuse is closely related to immorality. High levels of 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.


In this week's Torah portion we find two unique themes that are strangely juxtaposed. One is the "Sotah". The other is the "Nazir". The Sotah is a woman who has been warned in advance by her husband not to seclude herself with 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 they committed adultery or not. A Kohein would give the woman a specially prepared drink of water to consume in the Temple. If she was an adulterer, she suffered a horrible death as the water made her bloat until she "exploded". On the other hand, if she was not an adulterer, she walked away totally absolved of any suspicion.


A Nazir is someone who voluntarily decides to elevate himself for a period of at least 30 days. The Nazir would refrain from drinking wine and cutting his hair, as well as avoid any contact with impurity connected with death. After the designated time, the Nazir would return to his regular lifestyle.

What's the connection?

The Talmud (Sotah 2a) raises the question why the Torah describes the laws of the Nazir immediately after the portion dealing with the Sotah. The Talmud learns from this that whoever sees the death of a Sotah, should refrain from drinking wine. Rashi explains that the reason for this is due to the fact that excessive use of wine, as any substance abuse, is closely related to immorality. This answer seems very strange. We would assume that someone who has not seen the Divine punishment of the Sotah would be a more appropriate candidate to refrain from wine as a reminder to be cautious. Why of all people should the one who views this miracle first hand and sees the consequences of substance abuse and immorality be the one who is required to become a Nazir?

Quickly lost

The Ramban (Emunah U'Bitachon Chapt. 19) teaches us an extremely important lesson about the psychology of man and his behaviour. A person may experience a very sensational miracle, or may for another reason be strongly impacted emotionally and spiritually. This sensation could even elevate the person to great levels of awe or love for G'd. However, if one does not immediately draw practical conclusions from the experience and thereby transform it into a part of one's psyche, the effect of this experience is quickly lost. Only if one takes action and does something to internalize the experience will it have a lasting effect.

Modern miracles

Every time Israel has to fight their enemies one can clearly see the Hand of G'd. During the 6-Day War, many Israeli soldiers came back from the front lines with miraculous stories how they were saved from certain death. The whole world was in awe at the rescue in Entebbe, and everyone marveled when the missiles from the Gulf War exploded in Israel with almost no direct casualties. Even last summer when the Hezbollah sent their deadly missiles there were numerous incidents of Divine protection.

Use opportunity immediately

However, we must ask ourselves, how many of us have taken these opportunities to capture the miracles into our inner psyches? The Ramban explains that when a person realizes that he sees the hand of G'd, he should capitalize this potential for spiritual elevation and utilize it as a vehicle for personal growth. But the opportunity must be used immediately or it will be lost forever. This is turn will make him worthy to receive the blessings of G'd. G'd's blessings are always available but they need a receptacle to receive them. Only if we utilize these opportunities and transform our strong feelings into action, will we merit the Divine blessings.

Lasting change

Those who saw the punishment of the Sotah saw the Hand of G'd. Our Sages explain that the Torah wrote the laws of the Nazir after the laws of the Sotah to teach that the one who saw the death of a Sotah should use this opportunity to become a Nazir and elevate himself to higher spiritual heights. This way the experience would be transformed into a lasting change.

Once a Nazir

But what happens to the Nazir after the period of refrain ends. In most cases the Nazir period only lasts 30 days, so how can that be considered a lasting impact? We can find an answer to this if we analyze the Torah's instructions for the Nazir at the conclusion of the Nazir period. The Nazir has to bring different offerings after which the Torah states (Bamidbar 6:20) "and then the 'Nazir' may drink wine." This seems puzzling. After the Nazir period he is no longer a Nazir, so why does the Torah still refer to this person as a Nazir? The answer is that after having gone through the period of holiness, the Nazir is now ready to go back into the daily life on a higher spiritual level.

World for our pleasure

G'd created the world for our pleasure. G'd does not wish us to abstain from the pleasures of this world within the parameters of the Torah. The Torah therefore does not recommend that we live the life of a Nazir in general. Although the Nazir is considered holy for undertaking these extra restrictions, there is also an aspect of sin involved in restricting oneself from what is permitted. However, under special circumstances it could be beneficial for a person to undertake to become a Nazir. But the main benefit is when the Nazir 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 Nazir.

Strengthen relationships

We often 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 spirituality and on a practical level 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
Jerusalem, Israel