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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Naso

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

The laws of Nazir are juxtaposed upon the previous chapter that dealt with the sotah, wayward wife. Chazal derive from here that he who witnesses a sotah in her degradation should prohibit wine to himself by becoming a Nazir. The sotah had given in to her sensual passions and let her pursuit of physical pleasure overwhelm her responsibility as a wife, her obligation as a Jewess and her mandate as a human being. Her experience indicates that when one is under the influence of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, he becomes easy prey to all forms of degeneracy. Wine intoxicates one's mind. It has the power to justify the most base behavior and legitimize actions which under normal circumstances would be viewed as vile and depraved. Seeing a sotah in a circumstance that was probably the result of wine or an intoxicating lifestyle, should arouse an individual to choose to adopt a spiritual life, one that transcends the physical impulses that led to sin.

The Nazir symbolizes holiness. He sanctifies himself in an area that in itself is permissible. He chooses to go one step further. On the other extreme is the sotah, a woman who follows her heart's passion and commits a sin that is the epitome of depravity. The Torah draws a relationship between these two extreme types of people. Indeed, one who sees a sotah during her degradation should take the Nazirite vow. How are we to understand this?

Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, explains that once Adam HaRishon sinned, the concept of absolute bad or good disappeared. Every phenomenon has two perspectives. It can be good; it can also be bad. It depends upon one's attitude and intention. Let us take wine for example. On the one hand, it is the symbol of kedushah, holiness. It is used for Kiddush, for every gathering of simchah shel mitzvah, and for the Nesachim, libations, in the Bais HaMikdash. On the other hand, it symbolizes sin, causing intoxication, memory loss, and lack of self- control that can lead to grave sin. So, what is it, bad or good? It is neither - it is both. One who drinks wine for the appropriate purpose, according to the proper measurement, will arouse within himself emotions of joy that can lead to such spiritual ascendency as Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration. If one has the wrong intentions, however, if his base desires take hold of him and control his mind, then wine can lead to the most perverse transgressions.

Interestingly, when Yaakov and Eisav vied for their father's blessing, Yaakov brought along wine with his sacrifice, while Eisav did not. Moreover, when Yitzchak blessed Yaakov he blessed him with tirosh, vineyards. He did not give this blessing to Eisav. Why not? Horav Sorotzkin explains that Yaakov recognized the value of wine, the incredible opportunities that wine could engender. He, therefore, felt that at a time of blessing, when his father would be inspired to transmit to him the lofty blessings from Hashem, what better stimulant than wine to bring out the inherent joy that would accompany this moment. Yitzchak, likewise, blessed Yaakov with vineyards. Conversely, Eisav looked at the downside of wine, the debauchery and degeneracy that it could catalyze. At a time of blessing, the last thing he sought to bring would be wine. Yitzchak, recognizing well his son Eisav's nature, steered clear of wine when he blessed him.

One who sees a sotah in her degradation, witnessing the evil wine can catalyze, must isolate himself from wine. He must take a Nazirite vow because he might stumble and fall into the evil pit of wine. Witnessing degradation creates a problem in the individual. He must immediately address that problem and limit its growth.

From new or aged wine he shall abstain...all the days of his abstinence he is holy to Hashem. (6:3,8)

The Nazir is described as one who is "kadosh hu l'Hashem," "holy to Hashem." He has the diadem of Hashem upon his head. Why? What did he do that is considered so significant that he warrants such exceptional praise? True; he has prohibited himself from the pleasure of wine, but is that sufficient basis to elevate him to such a lofty level? It is not as if he has accepted any sort of self-affliction upon himself, such as fasting, etc., just abstaining from wine. Is that so impressive? Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, offers a profound response which we would do well to consider. Man has the option to go through life in one of two ways. He can be a creature of habit, following the whims and fancies of his heart's desire, never stopping to think: Who am I? What am I? Why am I here? He simply runs on the impetus of established routine.

Alternatively, he can be an individual who thinks, who uses his G-d-given cognitive ability to control his actions with forethought. He never acts automatically, always striving to maintain control over his life. Living aimlessly, as his counterpart chooses to live, is for him the antithesis of life. The Nazir is called a kadosh because he has chosen to live with seichel, with forethought, with consideration of the ramifications of his actions. He may not have accepted a great deal upon himself, but what he has done is the fruit of his consideration and thought. Sforno describes the Nazir's abstention from wine as a thoughtful way to gain control over his evil-inclination. He does not go to the extreme by fasting, or self-infliction by torturing his body. He simply makes a voluntary act of abstention, whereby he indicates his self-control. He is not acting automatically. Every action is the product of a well-thought-out consideration. When one makes use of his G-d- given faculty of thought to better serve Hashem, he is performing a holy endeavor. Hence, the Nazir is termed kadosh.

On the seventh day, the Nasi of Bnei Efraim, Elishama ben Amihud. (7:48)

The Torah devotes the end of the parsha to detailing the korbanos and gifts brought by the Nesiim for the Chanukas Ha'Mizbayach, dedication of the Altar. Each of the twelve Nesiim brought an identical set of presents. The Midrash addresses the connotations of each of the gifts. Chazal make an intriguing statement concerning the gift of Elishama, the Nasi of Shevet Efraim. They cite the pasuk in Tehillim 60:9, in which it is stated, "Efraim is the strength of my head." This is considered a reference to the Nasi of Shevet Efraim who brought his offering on Shabbos. The Shem Mishmuel explains that the pasuk relates to the incident at the end of Yaakov Avinu's life, when he blessed Efraim before Menashe, the older brother. The pasuk implies that in favoring Efraim over Menashe, Yaakov legitimized Elishama for offering his korban on Shabbos. Under normal circumstances, no korban yachid, offering of an individual, could override the laws of Shabbos. Somehow, Yaakov invested Efraim with a power so unique that it enabled his descendant to offer his korban on Shabbos. What was that power?

What makes this Midrash even more enigmatic is the fact that the Sifri claims that any of the Nesiim had the ability to "push aside" the laws of Shabbos or tumah, ritual contamination, and offer his korban. How are we to understand this? What was the attribute of Yaakov Avinu's blessings that gave such strength to Efraim -- and to all the tribes -- that their korbanos superceded Shabbos?

The Shem MiShmuel begins by analyzing the characters of Menashe and Efraim, as well as the symbolism of their names. One's name reveals his essence. Thus, the name Menashe, which was given to him, "for Hashem has made me forget all of my trouble and all of my father's house," denotes forgetting or distancing oneself from the past. This represents a form of serving Hashem in which one divests himself of his prior bad habits in his quest towards achieving perfection before the Almighty. Efraim's name has another implication: "For Hashem has made me fruitful in the land of my oppression." With its root in the concept of fruitfulness, Efraim's name denotes a positive approach towards serving Hashem, in which one focuses upon developing good character traits and takes a more affirmative attitude toward mitzvah observance.

David Ha'Melech in Sefer Tehillim (34:15) says, "Sur meira va'asei tov," "Depart from evil and do good." In the context of Menashe and Efraim's names, Menashe alludes to "departing from evil," while Efraim will signifies the more positive act of "doing good."

Yosef's desire to have Menashe, the older brother, blessed first, and Yaakov's confusing choice to bless Efraim first, is symbolic of the continuing dialogue between father and son concerning the most correct manner to approach the Divine and serve the Almighty. Yosef wanted to follow the pattern of the pasuk in which a departure from evil precedes mitzvah performance. Hence, he felt that Menashe, the symbol of "sur meira," should be blessed first. Indeed, Yosef's entire life was a struggle with evil, constantly battling to ward off the obstacles set before him by his yetzer hora, evil inclination.

Yaakov Avinu's perspective was different. He felt one should concentrate on performing mitzvos, rather than waiting for the evil from within to dissipate. The holiness engendered by mitzvah performance would serve as the vehicle for the evil to be expunged. Yaakov's approach is the accepted path. The general rule in Jewish life is to begin by serving Hashem, performing mitzvos, doing good deeds and assigning a secondary role to eradicating evil. If the mitzvah observance is truly sincere, the evil will self-destruct.

It is evident from the mitzvah of Shabbos observance that Yosef's approach, first dispelling evil, is not effective. Shabbos is the epitome of kedushah, holiness. Consequently, one might never feel "competent" enough to observe it. Is one ever truly ready to greet kedushas Shabbos? The inevitable result of this perspective is that one would never observe Shabbos! According to Yaakov's approach, we just do whatever we can during the week to prepare ourselves as well as possible to greet the holy Shabbos - and it just comes! If we follow Yosef's approach, we will be stuck in the "sur meira" mode and never observe Shabbos. Yaakov instructs us to get on with a life of Torah and mitzvos, and the rest will just happen.

Yaakov's selection of Efraim over Menashe constituted a statement. He was telling us that the emphasis in Jewish life must be on the "asei tov," doing good. It was, therefore, appropriate that the Nasi of Shevet Efraim offered his korban on Shabbos. By doing this, he underscored the significance of starting the Divine worship of one's tribe with a positive act. Even though it was Shabbos, the Divine imperative guided this departure from halachah in order to emphasize the importance of the "asei tov" perspective in Jewish life.

The Sifri supplements this idea by saying that any tribe could have taken the initiative and brought the korban on Shabbos. Once Yaakov had administered the blessings, it became a universal rule for all of Klal Yisrael. Once the correct path for serving Hashem had been established, any one of them could have brought the korban on Shabbos.

And when Moshe went into the Ohel Moed that he might speak with Him, and he heard the voice speaking to him. (7:89)

Rashi notes that the word "medaber," "speaking," is similar to "misdaber," in the hispa'el, reflexive form of the verb, implying that Moshe heard the voice of Hashem speaking to Itself. Sforno expands on this idea, suggesting that actually Hashem "makes it known to Himself." Thus, the voice that Moshe heard was actually an "overflow" of Hashem's words. In other words, the concept of Hashem "speaking" to Moshe is not of the same nature as that of conversation as between two people. Hashem Yisborach "speaks" to Himself, so to speak, and Moshe "overhears" what is said.

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, states a profound appreciation based upon this concept. Hashem is the cause of everything. His will is what gives "life" to everything and every action. Chazal say that "one does not stub his finger on this world unless it has been previously decreed by the Heavenly Tribunal." When we undertake an endeavor or simply carry out a task, we are performing the will of Hashem. Hashem speaks; we do not hear Him because we are not on that level. Avraham Avinu left his home at the enjoinment, "Lech lecha me'artzecha," "Go from your land." He heard Hashem.

Every person should keep this in mind, so that when he acts he realizes that he is performing the will of Hashem. Horav Feinstein suggests that this idea is especially true when one marries. Exclusive of the mitzvah of Kiddushin, in which everyone is commanded to take a wife, he is fulfilling the will and mandate of Hashem by taking this specific woman as his wife. He fulfills the Heavenly decree that was issued many years prior when Hashem decreed "bas ploni l'ploni," "the daughter of this man will marry that man." When one keeps in mind that the particular woman who became his wife is Hashem's choice for him, he will have a greater appreciation of, and deeper commitment to, the marriage bond. Ultimately, this sensitivity will lead to increased blessing from Hashem Yisborach.


1. Is a zav permitted to enter the machne Yisrael?
2. If the husband had been aware of his wife's infidelity, but looked away, ignoring her improper behavior, will the bitter waters work for her?
3. When the sotah promises that she was faithful to her husband, does she include the period of eirusin?
4. The Nazir brings a korban as penance. What did he do wrong?
5. What is unique about the Shalmei Nazir as opposed to other Shelamim?
6. What is the meaning of "v'Ani avoracheim," "I will bless them," found in the end of Bircas Kohanim?
7. Who were the first ones to contribute towards the Chanukas Ha'Mizbayach?


1. Yes.
2. No. The bitter waters work only if her actions had been hidden and unknown from the husband. If he had looked away, the waters will not work.
3. When she answers "amen,amen" twice she alludes to nesuin and eirusin.
4. He was not careful in regard to tumah. He deprived himself wine.
5. Bread is brought along with the Shalmei Nazir, unlike others.
6. Hashem will agree with the Kohanim's brachah and bless Klal Yisrael. Hashem will bless the Kohanim.
7. The Nesiim.

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4 Sivan 5755



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