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Parshas Nasso

Nazir - Finer than Wine
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

"All the days of his abstinence he is holy to Hashem"(Bamidbar 5:8).

It is hard to imagine two more diametrically opposed individuals than a nazir and a sota (unfaithful wife). A nazir abstains from wine and the pleasures of this world, instead focussing on spiritual pursuits. In this way he becomes holy and is likened to the Kohen Gadol (high priest) (see Meshech Chachma). On the other hand, the adulteress lets her desires prevail over the natural sense of shame and loyalty to Hashem and one's spouse. Curiously, the laws concerning these two individuals are juxtaposed in the Torah. One might think that the mitzva of nazirus would be more fitting to appear alongside the laws of the kohanim. The fact that it is presented side by side with the sota must be significant. Chazal derive from here that anyone who sees a sota in her disgrace should abstain from wine by becoming a nazir, for wine leads to sin (Sota 2a).

We all understand how drinking wine can lead to sin. Wine makes one lightheaded and the ability to make rational and responsible decisions is clouded. Why is sobriety only prescribed for the one who sees the degradation of the sota? Shouldn't everyone be discouraged from drinking wine? Everything that Hashem created has a purpose. If Hashem created wine and the Torah permits its consumption, then we are not expected to refrain from drinking it. Indeed, at times, it is a mitzva, for example., Kiddush on Shabbos and Yom Tov; Sheva Brachos, etc. Similarly, everything that one experiences is for a reason. Thus, one who sees a sota in her disgrace ought to ask himself "Why was I in the Beis Hamikdash at the same time that an unfaithful wife was led in?". If an individual witnessed the sota's shame, it is because the Ribbono Shel Olam is giving him a message. He needs to improve. Therefore the Torah tells him to become a nazir.

However our question remains unanswered. Seeing the suffering and disgrace of the sota ought to be a strong enough wake-up call to improve one's conduct. If we would see someone struck by a bolt of lightning while driving on Shabbos, we would surely become more careful in our Shabbos observance. What additional benefits does the one who witnessed the sota accrue by becoming a nazir?

Let us first consider whom it is we are advising to become a nazir. It is certainly not someone who has committed adultery, nor any other person who would be unwilling or unable to heed the warning to abstain from wine. This is rather, an individual who has merited a Divine sign, a G-d fearing person who needs to improve their ways. Perhaps he gazes where it is not allowed, or is lax with regard to yichud (restriction for a man and woman not married to each other, to be alone together). Will such a person draw a lesson from what he saw? In all likelihood he will say, "Yes, adultery is a terrible aveira (sin), which is why the sota died in such a horrible way. I would never commit adultery". He will fail to realise that he also needs to improve and the lesson will be lost. Therefore the Torah advises that he should become a nazir. When he focuses on growing closer to Hashem, and leading a life of holiness, his weaknesses will become apparent and he can begin to overcome them.

The Rosh writes that one should look towards those who are on a higher level of avodas Hashem than his own, and not at those who are beneath him. By watching someone greater, one will realise he still has a way to go in serving Hashem. But if one only pays heed to someone less observant, he is likely to become smug and complacent. When the Telshe Yeshiva was already established in America for ten years, one of the Roshei Yeshiva commented to his colleague "I've been in America for ten years and I haven't been affected at all". The other Rosh Yeshiva replied "Indeed you have been affected". The first Rosh Yeshiva was alarmed and said "How can you say that? Tell me, in what way have I changed?" His colleague answered, "The fact that you can even think that you haven't been affected is a sign that you have."

Often we see people do things and we cannot understand how someone can commit such acts. Perhaps we are even infuriated by their behaviour. While we may never succumb to that same temptation, nevertheless we are affected by this. When we see others' shortcomings, we lose sight of our own failings and instead, we give ourselves a pat on the back. This is an especially important lesson for our generation. As the morals of society continue to spiral downwards, we must be vigilant so that we don't let our own standards erode. We must learn from the nazir, to keep our focus on coming closer to Hashem, then we too, will merit to be Kodesh LeHashem, to be holy to Hashem.

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