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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The man shall bring his wife to the Kohen. (5:15)

Rashi notes that the Torah presents the laws of sotah, whereby the man is compelled to bring his wayward wife to the Kohen, following the laws of Matnos Kehunah, gifts to the Kohen. This teaches us that one who refrains from giving the Kohen his due, will end up coming to him with his wife. To quote the words of the Midrash, "A door which is not open for charity is open for the doctor." One close student of Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl brought him five thousand dollars to be dispersed for charity. When Rav Shach queried him concerning the source of the funds, the man related the following story.

A certain talmid chacham, Torah scholar, was to undergo a surgical procedure. The surgeon's fee was five-thousand dollars. One of the friends of the talmid chacham was able to appeal to the Kupas Cholim, organization for the sick and needy, to underwrite the surgery. After the procedure, the talmid chacham gave his friend one hundred dollars to give to Rav Shach for the benefit of charity. After about an hour, he returned with another forty nine hundred dollars, explaining, "When I came home and related to my wife that I was giving one hundred dollars to charity, she felt I was wrong. In truth, I had saved five-thousand dollars. Therefore, I should contribute the entire amount of the surgery to tzedakah."

When Rav Shach heard this, he said, "Please invite this couple to my home. If this is the way they act, I would like to bless them."

A man or woman who shall disassociate himself by taking a Nazirite vow of abstinence (6:2)

Rashi explains the juxtaposition of the laws of Nazir upon the laws of sotah, the wayward wife. This juxtaposition teaches us that one who sees a sotah in her degradation should take a vow to abstain from wine, since wine can stimulate immorality. There is a far cry between the Nazir, who signifies kedushah, sanctity, at its zenith, and the sotah, who reflects spiritual degeneracy at its nadir. Yet, one who sees this degradation should accept upon himself the vow of Nezirus. Is this not an extreme reaction? Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, looks at this pragmatically. There is no absolute in regard to good or evil, no area that is strictly black or white. There is a lot of gray. Ever since the sin of Adam Ha'Rishon, our perception of good and evil has been distorted. One's perception depends on one's objective. For example, wine can be, and is frequently, used as a symbol of kedushah. It is used for Kiddush, for any joyous occasion and was used extensively in the Bais Hamikdash. On the other hand, it is also associated with evil. It causes one to forget himself and do things that he would never consider doing had he not been inebriated. It leads to debauchery and other sinful behavior. Where do you draw the line? Is wine good or evil?

The answer depends on how much, when and for what purpose the wine is used. It can raise one's feelings of joy, so that he can thereby elevate himself spiritually. He can drink like a sot and act like one, too. Interestingly, when Yitzchak Avinu blessed his sons, both Yaakov and Eisav brought him tasty food. Yaakov included wine, while Eisav did not. Why? When Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, he added that his vineyards should be blessed. He did not share this blessing with Eisav. Why?

Yaakov was acutely aware of the spiritual benefits which he derived from wine. He sensed that when his father was about to bless him, he should bring wine, so that it would elevate his father's spirit and heighten his emotions. This would catalyze a sense of joy that would permeate his essence, bringing about greater blessing from the recesses of his neshamah, soul. Yitzchak, concomitantly blessed Yaakov with vineyards, because he understood their advantage for Yaakov. Eisav, on the other hand, had an exclusive perspective on wine: it was evil and catalyzed sinful behavior. Yitzchak knew what wine would do to his errant son. He, therefore, did not bless him with vineyards.

One who sees a sotah in her degradation, who witnesses the negative effect of wine, should wonder whether it could happen to him. There must be a hidden message if Hashem has caused him to take notice. He should be concerned that the ugly consequences of wine could take him captive, as it did the sotah.

The Nazir is obligated to respond to the message. He should sense that he has a shortcoming within his psyche that must be addressed before he falls prey to his yetzer hora, evil-inclination. The Rosh Hayeshivah cites the Sifri that distinguishes between one who eats food on Yom Kippur and the Nazir who is prohibited from eating the skins and pips of the grapes. The individual who eats food on Yom Kippur does so in a manner that causes him pain. Alternatively, the food is of such a nature that he is pained by eating it. The Nazir also has an unnatural and painful eating experience when he eats the forbidden food. In the former case, the individual is not in violation of Torah law. In contrast, the Torah informs us that such a Nazir is in violation of his own nezirus, just as if he had eaten the main part of the grape. The Nazir realizes that he has a serious problem. He has no control over himself. Therefore, he frequently and easily submits to his yetzer hora. He must distance himself from anything that is even remotely derivative of grapes. Once he indulges, however slightly, he is unable to assert himself. He is a person who will believe that darkness is light and bitter is sweet. He cannot permit the yetzer hora to have any access to him whatsoever.

A man or a woman who shall disassociate himself by taking a Nazirite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem. (6:2)

Chazal teach us that one who witnesses the sotah, wayward wife, during her degradation, should take upon himself the vow of a Nazir and abstain from drinking wine. The yetzer hora, evil-inclination, takes hold of a person during his weak moments - a situation that can be brought about through drinking wine. The yetzer hora does not distinguish between victims. Immorality is only one of the many pitfalls to which he leads an unsuspecting victim. What about the Nazir who falls into the clutches of the yetzer hora? Chazal tell us about Shimon HaTzaddik who met a shepherd who was so impressed with the beautiful locks of his hair that he took a Nazirite vow so that he could cut them off l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. This is the Nazir that controlled his yetzer hora that would lead him to gaavah, arrogance. In the Talmud Sotah 10b, Chazal tell us about another Nazir, one who fell into the abyss of arrogance. In the end, he was hung by his locks. We return to our original question: What do we do when we witness a Nazir in his degradation?

Horav Yitzchak Aizik Sher, zl, suggests that we follow the proven antidote for overcoming the blandishments of one's yetzer hora - Torah study. Therefore, we should go to the bais hamedrash, take out a Gemara and learn! Yet, we find that even Torah study does not always protect us from haughtiness. David Hamelech's son, Avshalom, was certainly a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, whose Torah did not protect him from falling into the nadir of sin. If Torah is the ultimate weapon to counteract the yetzer hora, why do Chazal not simply say that one who sees a sotah in her degradation should study Torah?

We derive from here, explains the Mashgiach of Slabodka, that at times, the yetzer hora masquerades itself as a mitzvah. In these situations, the mitzvah is being fulfilled at the behest of - and being sustained by - the yetzer hora. Therefore, Chazal have instructed us that one must study Torah with fear, trepidation and sweat, implying that casual study has no place in the Torah milieu. While Torah study certainly engenders yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, this applies only if the student is serious about his learning. One who approaches Torah study for the wrong reason - for example, to derive honor from his scholarship - will only exacerbate his arrogance. He will not become a better person as a result of his learning. In this case, the yetzer hora becomes his chavrusa, study partner.

One can accept the Nazirite vow for a number of reasons. If he is doing it to overwhelm the yetzer hora within himself, he will succeed. If he seeks to elevate himself to become like a Kohen, but, in truth, in the recesses of his heart he simply wants to be superior to his peers, then the Nazirite vow will have a negative effect on him.

The yetzer hora has incredible powers. It can ensnare a person and convince him that he is performing a mitzvah when, in reality, he is descending to the depths of sin. Avshalom was great, so great that he had a strong and distinguished following; yet, despite all of his Torah scholarship, he died a sinner, banished from his home and his People. One must always make sure that his intentions are noble and that he remains focused on his goal.

A man or a woman who shall disassociate himself by taking a Nazirite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem. (6:2)

Rashi explains the juxtaposition of Nazir upon the incident of sotah as teaching us a lesson that one who witnesses a sotah during her degradation should become a Nazir. First, by abstaining from wine, he will be distancing himself from one of the media which catalyze a breakdown in one's defenses against immoral behavior. This advice is rendered to everyone, regardless of how removed he is from personally falling into a similar situation. This is a powerful demand. Second, it is not the sin that he sees; it is not even her miserable gut-wrenching death that he sees; it is the humiliation of her hair exposed and her clothes torn. Why is witnessing the punishment not a sufficient deterrent? Why does he have to become a Nazir? I suggest that after witnessing the painful death that the sotah suffers, one would be seriously moved.

Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, derives from here that a person must protect himself by placing a barrier between himself and the opportunity for sin. Inspiration and various stimuli affect a person up to a point. When the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, takes hold of him, however, all of the stimuli become irrelevant. Inspiration becomes a thing of the past as one is engulfed by the fire and passion of the yetzer hora. The only protection is the fence that one has erected to guard himself from falling into the realm of sin. Therefore, Chazal say: Become a Nazir; abstain from wine, so that you will never fall into the clutches of the yetzer hora.

The Alter, zl, m'Kelm posits that nothing will halt a baal taavah, one who is lustful, from deferring to his desires. Even if he sees the ugly consequences of his submission to his heart's cravings, he will nonetheless act out his infatuations. He relates the famous story about the wise man whose father was a drunkard. This caused much humiliation for the distinguished son. He often attempted to convince his father not to fall prey to the bottle - to no avail.

They were once walking together when they chanced upon a man who was clearly inebriated, rolling in the sewer amid his own stench. The son turned to his father and asked, "Do you now see the horrible consequences of drink?"

Instead of a reply, the father bent over the drunk and whispered into his ear, "Tell me, my friend, where did you purchase such powerful whiskey?"

The baal taavoh is obsessed with his desires, and reason is not effective. He must erect fences around himself to protect himself from falling into the abyss of sinful desire.

So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael. (6:23)

The Midrash comments that Klal Yisrael complained to Hashem, "You instruct the Kohanim to bless us. We need nothing but Your blessing." Hashem responded, "Even though I instruct the Kohanim to bless you, I still stand over them and bless you." The statement, "We need nothing but your blessing," is enigmatic. It implies that Hashem's blessing "suffices" and we need nothing else. Is this true? Our attitude should be that we desire no other blessing but Hashem's! The Ksav Sofer explains that Hashem's blessing is unlike that of mortal man. A human being's blessing invariably focuses on areas of a material nature, regardless of whether these blessings are inherently good for the person. Some people would be better off with less material abundance. For others, honor and distinction can produce a negative result. Do we really know what is good for us? How many people supplicate the Almighty for specific blessings which, in the long term, might not be favorable?

This is what Klal Yisrael meant when they implied that Hashem's blessing was "sufficient." If the Kohanim bless us, how will they know what is good for us and what is not? We only need Your brachah, because only what You consider to be a brachah for us is truly a brachah. Otherwise, it is not a blessing. We do not need blessings from human beings, since they do not know what is truly a blessing for us.

Hashem, therefore, instructed the Kohanim to give a general blessing with no specifics, a blessing that has a number of connotations. Hashem decides what is best for us. This is what is meant by Hashem's reply that He stands over the Kohanim. He determines each person's blessing. The Kohanim say, "Hashem should watch over you" - He decides what that means. Everyone is protected in accordance to what is best for him.

The Shomer Emunim cites the Baal Shem Tov who gives the following explanation for the pasuk in Tehillim (145:19), "The will of those who fear Him He will do; and their cry He will hear, and save them." Two questions come to mind upon reading this pasuk; First, once Hashem carries out the will of those who fear Him, what need is there to listen to their pleas again? Has He not already done what they ask? Second, should it not have been the other way around: First Hashem listens, and then He performs what they ask? The Baal Shem Tov explains that, initially Hashem listens to the pleas of all who cry out to Him - regardless if it is for a positive or a negative purpose. Even a thief who cries out for assistance may receive an affirmative response. The difference is that once the thief is caught, and he once again makes his plea, Hashem will not listen. The tzaddik, righteous Jew, who has prayed for something which, unbeknownst to him, was to his detriment can once again beseech Hashem when he realizes his error. Hashem will listen to him. He performs the will of those who fear Him and demonstrates His compassion by listening again to their pleas when they realize that they were in error.

The Chafetz Chaim suggests that when a person entreats Hashem, he should not say, "Please grant me this," since a person does not know what is inherently good for him and what is not. He should instead say, "Hashem, if this is good for me, please grant it to me - and if it is not good for me, I do not want it." A depressed man, who lived in abject poverty, once came to the Chafetz Chaim to pour out his heart to the sage. During the course of the conversation, the man revealed that for years, he had just eked out a living. It was not extravagant, but he provided for his family in a manner in which they managed from year to year, covering their basic necessities. The problem was that he was greedy, he wanted to be wealthy. He purchased a lottery ticket and prayed. He poured out his heart to Hashem, begging Him for this one big win. Hashem listened and the man won the jackpot, twenty thousand rubles. Not being much of a businessman, it did not take long before a few bad investments quickly depleted his newly-gotten wealth. He was now destitute with no means of supporting his family. What could he do?

The Chafetz Chaim looked at the man and sighed heavily, "I cannot help you," he said. "Chazal state that Hashem decrees about each person whether he will be wealthy or poor. The Chesed L'Avraham adds that He also decrees how much a person will earn each week. Now, since you were basically earning a living each week, why did you "bother" Hashem to allow you to win the lottery? Do you realize that winnings from the lottery was your livelihood for the next few years? Hashem just gave it to you earlier!"

We do not know what is best for us. Only Hashem knows. So why not "allow" Him to make the decision without our assistance? The Chafetz Chaim once asked a Jew concerning his well-being. The person answered with the typical response, "A little better would not hurt." The Chafetz Chaim immediately countered, "How do you know that? Hashem knows what is best for you. He is compassionate and merciful. Surely, He wants you to have the best - the very best - for you. If 'better' was 'best' for you - He would grant it. Apparently, it is not best for you, so do not complain."

Last, we cite a powerful thought from Horav Shimshon Pinkus, zl. He cites the pasuk in Bereishis (48:22) in which Yaakov Avinu gives Shechem to Yosef "which I took from the hand of the Emori with my sword and my bow." Targum Onkelos interprets "sword" and "bow" as prayer and supplication. This teaches us that prayer is a form of weaponry. If one shoots enough arrows, something should hit its mark. A prayer, if it is said often enough, resolutely, with fervor and passion, will have an effect. In fact, Rav Pinkus says, that every time he was adamant in prayer, Hashem answered his request. He learned the hard way, however, that persistence may not always be the correct approach. At times, Heaven has other plans.

He once had to reclaim a car in Cyprus for a friend who was heavily involved in Jewish outreach. His vehicle was absolutely a major part of his work, since he would go to places off the beaten path in search of young people to bring closer to Yiddishkeit. When Rav Shimshon arrived at the tax office, he realized that he had forgotten to bring along the necessary documents. He decided to rely on his "weaponry," and he prayed to Hashem to help him retrieve the car for his friend. As he approached the official, he took out some official papers that were in English. When the official asked him what the papers were, Rav Shimshon looked at him incredulously and asked, "What do you mean? Do you not know what these papers represent?" The official, not wanting to concede that he could not read English, was taken aback, but quickly proceeded to release the car. With the help of the Almighty, Rav Shimshon's friend received the car and was now able to continue his work.

The very first time he took the car out, he was in an accident which tragically claimed his life. Rav Shimshon concluded by saying that this episode taught him a lesson: If Heaven delays you, if, for some reason, it seems that this is not the time, do not be stubborn, do not push on. It is just not yet the time.

Va'ani Tefillah

She'lo osani goi; eved; ishah

It is unfortunate that some people view these brachos as a sign of arrogance or superiority, when, in fact, they hold a deeper meaning. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that indeed there have been great "goyim" like: Mesushelach, Noach, Shem and Ever, Yisro and Iyov. There have been distinguished avadim, such as Eliezer, eved Avraham, Tovi, the servant of Rabban Gamliel, or Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi's maidservant. Are we also to reject the Imahas HaKedoshos, saintly Matriarchs, Devorah HaNeviah, and Esther HaMalkah? It is obvious that the underlying motif of these brachos is certainly not an expression of superiority, but rather an expression of profound gratitude at being granted the opportunity to perform more mitzvos. The gentile has only seven mitzvos. An eved, servant, has mitzvos like a woman, who is not obligated to perform those mitzvos which are zman grama, time-bound. Indeed, even if these individuals perform the mitzvos that they are not obliged to perform, their reward is less than that of a man. Reward is commensurate with the temptation to violate a mitzvah. One who does not have to contend with the yetzer hora regarding mitzvah performance will not have as great a reward for successfully carrying out the mitzvah.

An alternative explanation for reciting the brachah in the negative is that the making of a Jew is a matter of a Jew's own will and determination. Hashem has given us the freedom to obey Him or not; to betray our heritage or to uphold it; to observe mitzvos or reject them. It is up to us to decide if we want to be more than a Jew by birth, but also a Jew in practice and conviction.

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