D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


“God spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: A man or woman who shall make a vow, the vow of a Nazarite, to separate unto himself, for G-d. From new and old wine he shall separate himself” (Numbers Ch.6 v.1-3).        This is seemingly one of the most perplexing mitsvos in the Torah. If abstaining from wine is a mitsva in this circumstance, then why is it not always a mitsva to abstain from wine, i.e., why is wine not forbidden? And if it is not a mitsva, why would this man or woman accept upon himself or herself this self deprivation? Does G-d want us to be deprived of the good things in life? Will that make us better Jews, and bring us closer to Him? 

The Talmud (Tractate Sotah 2a) explains to us the meaning of this mitsva based upon the juxtaposition of Nazir to the mitsva of Sotah.

A Sotah, also explained in this week’s portion, deals with a woman accused of adultery. If a man had previously warned his wife not to be with a certain man, and two witnesses had seen her and this man spend time in seclusion, she cannot live with her husband till she drinks the “Mei Sotah”, the Sotah water. This was water that had, among other things, G-d’s name dissolved into it. If she walked away after drinking  this water, she was innocent. If not, she, and the man with whom she had sinned, would die. Interestingly, the commentators argue whether the Sotah ever actually occurred, and even according to those who say it had occurred, it occurred only on a couple of occasions.  Thus, if not testifying to the Jew’s moral standards, the paucity of Sotah events certainly testifies to their fear of G-d. Although we may be of little belief, and so we scoff and say this—a mere folk tale— never could have happened, we must remember that in those days there were 10(!) open miracles which occurred daily in the Temple. Thus this was no “legend” or “folk tale”.                                                             

The Talmud asks why these two mitsvos appear right next to each other. It answers that whoever sees a Sotah should abstain from wine. The reason for the Sotah waters, which were drunk publicly, was to show the absolute disgust one must have for promiscuity, and how it leads to the downfall of society. How could two Jews sink to such a low level? Through the misuse of permitted things such as wine. G-d gave us wine, not only to enjoy, but with which to sanctify ourselves if used properly (wine is used to bring in Shabbos and is also used for sacrificial offerings).                              

G-d wants us to enjoy good things. But if there is a possibility of our losing control of our desires, we must go to the opposite extreme for a month (one became a Nazarite for only one month) in order to balance ourselves. Once the month was over the person who had made the vow was required to bring a sacrifice for having deprived himself of good things! Thus, this is not a mitsva for all to try, as G-d wants us not only to enjoy the physical pleasures, but to elevate them, and to use them as a vehicle for serving  G-d. 

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