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Torah Attitude: Parashas Nasso: Use them or lose them
The two themes of "Sotah" and "Nazir" are juxtaposed in this week's parasha. 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. Someone who reaches a high level of awe or love for G'd will quickly lose it if he does nothing to internalize it. Whoever sees the Hand of G'd has an opportunity to utilize this experience for personal growth. It is incumbent on each of us to raise our spiritual levels.
In this week's parasha we find the two themes of "Sotah" and "Nazir" juxtaposed. The Sotah is a woman who has been warned in advance by her husband not to seclude herself with a particular man. If she ignores his warning and he suspects that she committed adultery, the Torah describes a miraculous method how to clarify whether she did commit adultery. A Kohein would give her 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". However, if she was innocent, she would walk 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 refrains from drinking wine and cutting his hair, and avoids any contact with impurity connected with death. After the designated time, the Nazir has to bring special offerings and then returns to his regular lifestyle.
What's the connection?
The Talmud (Sotah 2a) asks why the Torah describes the laws of the Nazir immediately after the portion dealing with the Sotah. The Talmud answers that whoever sees the death of a Sotah, should become a Nazir and refrain from drinking wine. Rashi explains that 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 think 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. Of all people, why should someone who just witnessed this miracle first hand and saw the consequences of substance abuse and immorality be the one who is encouraged to become a Nazir?
We may be able to answer this question based on the words of the Ramban. The Ramban (Emunah U'Bitachon Chapt. 19) teaches an extremely important insight into human psychology. Sometimes a person experiences a sensational miracle, or is for some other reason strongly inspired spiritually. This experience may well elevate the person to great levels of awe or love for G'd. If he takes immediate action it will have a lasting effect. However, if he does not immediately internalize the experience and draw some practical conclusions, the effect is quickly lost.
Over the years, when Israel had to go to war, many soldiers came back from the front 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. Also, when the Hezbollah send their deadly missiles, there have been numerous incidents of Divine protection.
Use opportunity immediately
However, we must ask ourselves, how many of us have internalized these miracles into our psyches? The Ramban explains that when a person realizes that he sees the hand of G'd, he should capitalize this potential and utilize it for personal growth. However, it is important that one takes this opportunity immediately. Otherwise, it will be lost forever. Says the Ramban, G'd's blessings are always available, but they need a receptacle to receive them. When we utilize these opportunities of inspiration and transform our feelings into action, we will merit to receive the Divine blessings.
The people who were present and saw the punishment of the Sotah clearly experienced a miracle. Therefore, they were encouraged to utilize this opportunity to become a Nazir and elevate themselves to higher spiritual heights. In this way, their experience would have a lasting effect.
Once a Nazir
With this insight, we can understand why the parasha of Nazir follows immediately after the parasha of Sotah. However, an obvious question arises. Generally, the Nazir period was only for 30 days. How can such a short period have 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. As mentioned above, 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 has ended he is no longer a Nazir, so why does the Torah still refer to him as a Nazir? The answer is that after having gone through even 30 days of holiness, the Nazir is now ready to go back into the daily life on a higher spiritual level. Therefore, the Torah still refers to him as a Nazir.
World for our pleasure
G'd created the world for our enjoyment and pleasure. G'd does not want us to abstain from the pleasures of this world, as long as we stay within the parameters of the Torah. Therefore, the Torah does not generally encourage that we live the life of a Nazir. Although the Nazir is considered holy for undertaking these extra restrictions, the Torah teaches that there is also an aspect of sin involved in restricting oneself from what is permitted (see Rashi Bamidbar 6:1). Only in special situations does the Torah recommend that a person undertakes to become a Nazir. However, the main purpose is that the Nazir shall go back and live a normal lifestyle in the elevated state of someone who was a Nazir.
We often stand in awe of G'd's involvement in our lives, both as individuals and as a nation. We must always remember that these are Divine opportunities to help us grow and fulfill our potential. The 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 we get to raise our spirituality and strengthen our relationships with G'd and our fellow humans.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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