In loving memory of
Edward H. Cohen, 11 Sivan, 5770,
by his children and grandchildren.
Gifts to the Kohen
This week’s Parashat Nasso happens to be the longest parasha in the Torah, with 176 pesukim. Similarly, the Bavli tractate Baba Batra has 176 pages, and the 119th perek of Tehilim has 176 pesukim as well. The gematria for 176 is leolam—forever. This is a sign that the Torah is forever!
The parasha is most notably about the laws of sotah. Sotah was the service the kohen performed when a man brought his wife whom he suspected of being unfaithful, to find out if she was indeed guilty. This married woman supposedly went into seclusion with another man. She would be brought to the kohen, he would write the name of Hashem on parchment, and then he would dip the parchment in water, which the woman would drink. If the woman was guilty of having relations with the man, she died an excruciating death on the spot. If, however, she did not commit adultery, she would not suffer any ill effects and even be blessed with fertility.
Before the laws of sotah are discussed, the Torah says, “Everyone’s holy things shall belong to him; whatever a man gives to the kohen shall be his (5:10).” This passuk is speaking about the gifts the Jewish people were obligated to give the kohen. Then two pesukim later, it introduces the idea of the sotah ritual.
Rashi comments on the juxtaposition of these two topics by stating that if a man is so mean-spirited that he tries to avoid giving gifts to the kohen, ultimately, he will bring his wife to the kohen because he suspected she was unfaithful to him.
Is that really much of an answer? What is Rashi trying to say? Rabbi Pinchas Winston delved further into Rashi’s explanation. Someone might deny giving the kohen, or in today’s case a poor person, his tithe because he attributes all of his financial success to himself and his efforts. One who does not believe that Hashem is the source of his blessings will have trouble giving tzedakah. He thinks I did all the hard work, I’m not giving my money away, instead of this is not my money, but a gift from Hashem, and I am happy to share it with His children.
The same attitude can develop in a husband towards his wife, who, the Talmud states, is the channel of blessing in the household (Baba Metzia 59a). It’s the woman who transforms a house into a home. It’s the mother that spends the most time with the children during the early years, while the father is often somewhere else, being “successful” either at work or in kollel.
Hence, like the kohen, the work the wife performs is usually out of her husband’s vision. The husband sees what he does and accomplishes, but unless he is a prophet, he will have difficulty knowing what his wife has done and achieved unless he takes the time to find out and appreciate it before it’s too late.
The Torah may be teaching us here, through the juxtaposition of the laws of giving gifts to the kohen and the laws of the sotah, that if one loses perspective of how Hashem is the source of one’s blessing, Rashi warns that one will also have difficulty recognizing the “invisible” efforts of his wife and deny her the respect and appreciation due to her.
And when a husband ceases to show appreciation for his wife’s efforts and only attributes his success to himself, what is his wife to do? Where is she to go to be appreciated and to have a sense of fulfillment? This, Rashi says, is a dangerous situation, one which can lead to the destruction of what should have been an eternal relationship.
There is a hint to this in the passuk, “Ish ish ki tisteh ishto umaala bo maal — Any man whose wife shall go astray and commit treachery against him (5:12).” Why does the Torah repeat the word ish—man twice? We know that the Torah doesn’t waste a single letter, let alone an extra word! Rabbi Frand explains that this is because there tends to be a reason the woman went into seclusion with another man. Maybe her husband harassed her to the point where he caused her great pain through verbal or physical abuse, or perhaps, as we discussed, it was something more subtle where he didn’t appreciate her. There’s no question that what she did was wrong, but the ish is not entirely free of responsibility.
Shalom Bayit, to What Degree?
The main reason the ritual of sotah is done is to alleviate a husband’s suspicions, to give him a sense of peace knowing his wife has remained faithful to him. As we mentioned, the kohen would write an oath and the name of Hashem on parchment, and he would submerge it in water, so the ink could flow freely and dissolve into the water.
Hashem is willing to go so far as to erase His holy name for the sake of shalom bayit. We learn from this how important it is to have peace in the household, but to what degree? How far can one go to preserve the peace?
There was once a man who called Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein with a question. He explained that his wife tends to do things with care, though very slowly, and when he returns from kollel, he has to wait a long time for lunch. At times, the hunger is quite intense, and on this particular day, he was so hungry that he went to a meat restaurant, simply unable to wait to eat.
“Today, of all days, when I got home, my wife said to me, ‘Dear husband, I made a surprise for you,’ and on the table was a plate of cheese blintzes, which I love.” The man added he was not supposed to eat in a restaurant, knowing his wife was preparing him lunch, and on top of that, not eating the blintzes would lead to his wife being even more upset. He called Rav Zilberstein asking for a heter—halachic allowance to eat the dairy blintzes citing shalom bayit.
The Rav responded, “For shalom bayit you could tell her that you ate meat at a Pidyon Haben, even though there was no Pidyon. However, permitting dairy after meat is out of the question. A small white lie for shalom bayit is okay, but transgressing other prohibitions is unacceptable.”
Hashem may be willing to erase His name on behalf of shalom bayit, but we must be cautious not to take advantage and use “keeping the peace” as an excuse for serious transgressions.
Don’t Be Stupid!
Rashi comments on “ki tisteh ishto — if his wife will go astray.” The word tisteh is related to the word shtuyot—stupidity. Rashi says, “Adulterers do not commit adultery until a spirit of foolishness enters them.” Just look at what’s happening in today’s society, where so-called intelligent people — politicians, famous newscasters, and top show-business personalities — are throwing their careers and reputations away for a fling. It’s not only limited to famous people; we see it with all types of people from different backgrounds. They become temporarily senseless and are irrationally willing to destroy their lives for fleeting pleasure. Is it really worth it?
Warren Buffett said, “It takes sixty years to build a good reputation and just one minute to destroy it.” I know a man who had a family, a good business, and beautiful children. He made an unwise move that ultimately cost him his marriage, his children, his house, and his company. Was it all worth it? That’s why Rashi says infidelity stems from stupidity.
On the other hand, there’s a famous story of a man in our community who, when he was a young man in the army, was put in a very tempting situation with a beautiful woman. He responded by immediately running for his life like Yosef Hatzaddik. This man later became a pillar of our community. He left a legacy through his children and grandchildren who follow the Torah, many of whom have become rabbis or are married to prominent rabbis in our community! This is also why the woman is blessed with a baby boy if she remained faithful. If she withstood the temptation and her yetzer hara, she was rewarded with a legacy!
After discussing the sotah, this week’s parasha explains the laws of the Nazir. A Nazir is someone who commits himself to serve Hashem, someone who abstains from things like drinking alcohol and cutting his hair. This week’s haftarah is about Shimshon, who was a Nazir.
The Rabbis derive from the sotah and the Nazir that “One who sees a sotah in her state of degradation should prohibit wine to himself by taking a Nazirite vow,” as is indicated in Sotah 2a.
This is because the woman succumbed to her sensual passions and let her body overpower her mind. Her experience was proof that we as people are easy prey to temptation, so when the yetzer hara gets ahold of us, even adultery can look like an acceptable option.
The Torah is saying to us clearly, that if we see something improper, it will most definitely affect us. We should take the disturbing experience as a sign to do something that will take us in the opposite direction so that we don’t dare drift near what we’d witnessed.
We are all exposed to the Internet these days, and it has taken hold of so many, causing them to lose their families and sometimes even their lives. We must know as Orthodox Jews that the only thing we should attach ourselves to is Torah.
Controlling the Yetzer Hara
With the two main topics of sotah and nazir in this parasha, there is an underlying theme of controlling the yetzer hara. Powerofspeech.org published a story about an eleven-year-old boy from Bet Shemesh who managed his evil inclination. One winter, his family went on a trip to Mount Hermon to see the snow, and he brought his pride and joy, his expensive digital camera. The boy, Baruch, had such a passion for photography; he took 567 pictures on the mountain and was eager to upload them onto his computer. His little brothers were so excited to see the images, and they tried to look at the camera, but Baruch was emphatic that no one could touch it, and they had to wait for him to upload the pictures.
On the drive home, Baruch fell asleep, and his precocious brother turned on the camera and accidentally deleted all the pictures! Baruch woke up to his siblings panicking in the car, frantically trying to figure out how to get them back. Baruch said, “It’s okay; I’ll be able to access the pictures from the memory card.” Unbeknownst to him, another one of his mischievous but well-meaning brothers had somehow gotten ahold of the camera back at Mount Hermon, opened it up, and left the mysterious little memory chip on the snowy parking lot at the bottom of the mountain.
To say that Baruch was angry when he found the memory card missing would be an incredible understatement. His anger towered over Mount Hermon, making it seem like an anthill. Before reacting, his older sister Rivkah asked her father to pull over so she could talk to Baruch. Rivkah was kind, intelligent, and a role model to all her siblings. She was 27 years old and still waiting for her naseeb. Baruch’s father pulled over, and Rivkah took Baruch for a little walk on the side of the highway.
“Baruch,” she said, “I know you must be so frustrated and angry right now. But I once heard that if a person controls his anger, his yetzer hara, even if he’s 100% right, at that moment, he can ask Hashem for anything, and Hashem will look on him favorably.” Baruch took a deep breath and thought of something he wanted. Instantly, he calmed down and silently wished that his sister would find her match in the zechut of controlling his anger. The picture of calm, he got back in the car while everyone looked at Rivkah and Baruch in amazement and appreciation.
Two weeks later, Baruch’s father received a call from an acquaintance, “Did you lose a memory card on Mount Hermon? An American yeshivah student, Eliezer, found it and started showing the pictures to a few people to see if he could track down the owner to return it, and I spotted your family.” A few days later, Baruch and his father got into their car to drive to Jerusalem to get the memory card from this young man. Eliezer turned out to be just the perfect kind of boy for the wonderful Rivkah, and apparently, Hashem agreed. Shortly after, Eliezer and Rivkah got married. The memory chip that led Eliezer to Rivkah was a message for all of B’nei Yisrael. When we control our anger and yetzer hara, even when we’re right, miracles will happen.
May we all know what’s due to the kohen or, in our days, the poor person, and not hold back from giving what is due to him because Hashem is the source of our blessings. May we appreciate our wives and all they do for us and our homes. May we have the strength to control our yetzer hara and receive all the berachot for doing so.
Are we careful enough to ensure that our spouse has no reason to doubt our loyalty and dedication to them?
Shining Light on the Parasha
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