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Torah Attitude: Parashas Nasso: As long as the candle burns, one can still make and fix things.

Summary

Whoever sees the public and degrading punishment of the Sotah in the Temple should abstain from drinking wine. It seems difficult to understand why the person who happens to be in the Temple at the time when the Sotah is being dealt with would be more obligated than anyone else to become a Nazirite. The total beauty of a piece of music performed by an orchestra is brought out by every musician playing his instrument in harmony with the other musicians at the right time and place. Before a person is born he takes an oath to be righteous and not to be wicked. The Baal Shem Tov used the yearly fair to teach his disciples that the serious person will make sure to tend to his purpose and fulfill his mission. Rabbi Salanter learned from the shoemaker that "As long as the candle burns, one can still make and fix things. "A mitzvah that comes your way, do not let it go sour." Every opportunity is put in front of us for a purpose and is tailor-made for the individual to utilize it. Through the juxtaposition of the Nazirite and the Sotah the Torah teaches us how to listen to our messages and to take appropriate action to help us fulfill our oath to be righteous and not to be wicked.

The Sotah and the Nazirite

In this week's parasha G'd instructs Moses regarding a person who takes a vow to become a Nazirite. The Nazirite must abstain from drinking wine and cutting his hair for at least 30 days and may not come into contact with any dead person during this period. Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Sotah 2a) that the laws of the Nazirite are given immediately after the laws of the Sotah. The Sotah is a woman suspected by her husband of having had illicit relationships with another man. Despite her husband's warnings that she shall not be in seclusion with this person, she nevertheless went and did so. The Talmud explains that there is a reason for the juxtaposition of these two portions. For whoever sees the public and degrading punishment of the Sotah in the Temple, when she is given the special water to drink that will make her body blow up and eventually kill her, should abstain from drinking wine. The Midrash Rabba (10:2-4) adds that this is because wine is the first step to immorality.

Obligation to become a Nazirite

An obvious question arises with the Talmud's explanation. Why is the person, who happens to be in the Temple, at the time when the Sotah is being dealt with, more obligated to become a Nazirite than anyone else?

Musicians playing in harmony

The last Mishnah in Pireki Avos (6:11) teaches that the common purpose of the creation in general, and of mankind in particular, is to give glory to the Creator. As it says (Isaiah 43:7) "All that is called in My name, I have created it for my Glory". However, every individual has their specific personal purpose to fulfill. Just as the total beauty of a piece of music, performed by an orchestra, is only brought out by every musician playing his instrument in harmony with the other musicians at the right time and place, so can the world at large only give the complete glory to G'd by each individual doing their share at the right time and place.

Utensils before birth

The Talmud (Niddah 16b) explains that before a person is conceived an angel appears before the Almighty to ask what qualities this person would be blessed with. Will the person be strong or weak, smart or simple, rich or poor? Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (Michtav Me-Eliyahu 2:156) comments on this, that even before a person is conceived, it is established what this person's personal mission in life will be. To enable the person to fulfill his life mission, he is blessed with the particular qualities or "utensils" needed for his special mission. Once the person is born it is up to him to choose to properly utilize these "utensils".

Oath to be righteous

The Talmud (ibid 30b) further says that before a person is born he takes an oath to be righteous and not to be wicked, meaning that the person promises to utilize his particular qualities in the right way. However, not only the abilities of a person, such as intelligence, strength, etc., are part of the "utensils" one gets to fulfill one's mission. Everyone is born into a family and society that suits the particular environment one needs to reach one's mission. All experiences that a person encounters throughout life are further opportunities to fulfill one's special mission. This is what we express in our morning prayers when we say the blessings "Blessed are You Hashem Who made me all my needs" and "Who prepares man's steps."

Baal Shem Tov & the yearly fair

It is well known that the founder of Chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov, would regularly utilize mundane situations, that he experienced with his disciples, to teach them lofty ideals and lessons for life. For example, he once came to a yearly market fair where merchants gathered from all over to do business, and where entertainers would come to amuse the public. As the Baal Shem Tov approached the fair he said to his disciples, "Look at this fair and the different kinds of people attending it. The serious businessmen will attend to their business first and only then go and enjoy themselves at the amusements. Others will go there and get caught up in the amusements as soon as they arrive, and only towards the end of the day they will remind themselves that the main purpose of attending this fair was to obtain goods for the coming year. So it is in life, the serious person understands that we have a mission and purpose to take care of and will make sure to tend to his purpose and fulfill his mission. When he feels that he has accomplished his purpose and needs to relax a little, only then will he allow himself time to enjoy the pleasures of this world according to his needs. Others fall for the temptations of worldly pleasures and get totally distracted from their purpose in life, and only wake up late and try to salvage whatever is possible and long overdue."

Rabbi Salanter and the shoemaker

There is a famous story regarding the founder of the Mussar movement, Rabbi Israel Salanter, who used a similar approach in teaching personal character development. He once came late at night to the house of a shoemaker and saw how he was sitting there working by a candlelight flickering in its last moments. Rabbi Israel asked the shoemaker, "Why are you working so late and your light is almost going out? Soon you will not be able to do anything in any case." "That does not matter", answered the shoemaker. "As long as the candle burns, it is still possible to make and fix the shoes." Rabbi Israel got very excited and mused to himself, "If for physical needs one can work and do things as long as the candle burns, how much more so as long as the light of the soul burns in a person, one has to utilize and fix what one can." For a long time after this incident, one could hear the great sage repeating to himself, "As long as the candle burns, one can still make and fix things."

Tailor-made experiences

These great sages saw in every experience a Heavenly message, a "utensil" to help them in their mission in life to fulfill their particular purpose. They understood that if an experience came their way, it was tailor-made for them as a personal message and a lesson to pass on to their disciples. If this is the case with a mundane experience, how much more does it apply to mitzvot as our sages say, "A mitzvah that comes your way, do not let it go sour" (see Rashi Shemos 12:17). Every mitzvah is an opportunity put in front of a person for a purpose and is tailor-made for this individual to utilize it. Not only should a person never say, "Why is this my obligation? Who says I should do it." To the contrary, we should appreciate these opportunities of Heavenly messages to light our way and guide us to fulfill our obligations.

No coincidence

Any person who happens to be in the Temple for whatever reason, at the time when the Sotah is publicly being degraded and punished, must realize that this is not a coincidence. Rather, it is a personal Heavenly message for this person. The juxtaposition of the laws of the Sotah and the laws of the Nazirite teach us how to learn a lesson from a Heavenly message. If someone sees the punishment of the immoral Sotah, there must be some connection to that person on some level of immorality. Therefore, he must take the most extreme steps to remove himself totally from anything that could bring him to immorality. He must abstain from any indulgence in wine, which as the Midrash says can bring a person to alcoholic abuse and immorality. It is not sufficient that he abstains from associating himself with other women, but he most go to the root of the problem starting with the wine. In the same way, we must tune in to listen to our personal Heavenly messages and take the appropriate action, so we truly can fulfill our prenatal oaths "to be righteous and not to be wicked."

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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