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The Torah portion of Nasso teaches us the laws regarding a Sotah, a woman suspected of adultery. The Torah begins this section by saying (Numbers 5:12), “אִ֥ישׁ אִישׁ֙ כִּֽי־תִשְׂטֶ֣ה אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וּמָֽעֲלָ֥ה ב֖וֹ מָֽעַל – Should any man’s wife go astray and be unfaithful to him.”
The double expression of אִ֥ישׁ אִישׁ֙ alludes to the fact that by committing adultery she is betraying both her husband and G-d. (The Torah sometimes calls G-d “man” by way of allegorically. See Exodus 15:3, “G-d is a man of war.”)
The Rosh (Rabbeinu Asher ben Yechiel) adds that this can be compared to a thief who was imprisoned and guarded by two guards. One guards the door to his cell while the other guards the outer door of the jail. If the thief manages to evade the guard of his cell and tries to escape from the outer door, the guard of that door can still catch him. He might then say to him, “Although you managed to fool the inner watchman, you can’t escape from me.” So, too, G-d says to the woman (and to any sinner), “You may have escaped the eyes of your husband (or any other onlooker), but you can’t escape My eyes.”
The Toldot Yitzchak by Rabbi Yitzchak Karro (an uncle of Rabbi Yosef Karro, author of the Shulchan Aruch) says that this expression teaches us that even if the husband forgives her, G-d does not (that, is in the absence of Teshuvah, repentance).
Meanings of תִשְׂטֶ֣ה
The commentators bring several explanations for the word תִשְׂטֶ֣ה:
1) To turn aside. This refers to the fact that the woman (and her adulterer) are turning away from the path of modesty (Rashi).
2) To act foolishly. תִשְׂטֶ֣ה is related to the word שׁוֹטֶה which means a fool. As our sages say (Sotah 3a) “Adulterers do not commit adultery unless a spirit of folly (שְׁטוּת) enters them,” as the verse (in Proverbs (6:32) says, “One who commits adultery with a woman is devoid of sense.” (Rashi based on Midrash Tanchuma)
This explanation is alluded to by the fact that instead of writing תִסְטֶ֣ה with a samech as in Sotah, the Torah writes תִשְׂתֶּה with a sin which alludes to the word Shote, fool. Since the Torah scroll has no vowels, a sin (שׂ) and ashin (שׁ) look the same. Thus the word can be read (for the purpose of interpretation) as if it said תִשָׁטֶ֣ה – become foolish (Sfat Emet, quoted in Pardes Yosef)
3) To drink. The Kli Yakar says that תִשְׂטֶ֣ה can be interpreted as if it said תִשְׂתֶּה (since letters that sound the same can be exchanged) i.e., drink. This alludes to the fact that drinking wine (and alcohol in general) can lead to immodest behavior and many other sins. This is why it says (in Yoel 4:18) regarding the coming redemption וְהָיָה בַיּ֨וֹם הַה֜וּא יִטְּפ֧וּ הֶֽהָרִ֣ים עָסִ֗יס… וּמַעְיָ֗ן מִבֵּ֚ית ה֙ יֵצֵ֔א וְהִשְׁקָ֖ה אֶת־נַ֥חַל הַשִּׁטִּֽים: which means, “And it shall come to pass on that day that the mountains shall drip with wine… and a spring shall emanate from the House of the L-rd and water the valley of Shittim.” The valley of Shittim alludes to the sin of lewd behavior as the Jews committed with the daughters of Moav in the place called Shittim. (See Numbers chapter 25.) This behavior often comes as a result of drinking excessive wine. But in the Messianic era, G-d will ensure that this does not happen as the spring emanating from the House of Hashem (i.e., a unique G-dly revelation) will imbue the Jewish people with holiness to counter this effect.
This is why the Aramaic word for wine is חַמַר as it causes a person to act like a חַמוֹר – a donkey.
As mentioned above, the Talmud (Sotah 3a) says that a person does not sin unless a spirit of folly enters them. The Birkat Peretz on the Torah (by Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky) points out that the Gematriyah of the verse from which we learn this – אִישׁ֙ כִּֽי־תִשְׂטֶ֣ה אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וּמָֽעֲלָ֥ה ב֖וֹ – is 1921 which is the same Gematriyah as this teaching in the Talmud – אין אדם עובר עברה אלא אם כן נכנס בו רוח שטות.
What Stopped the Man from Sinning?
The Talmud (Brachot 22a) tells the following story. A man once solicited a woman to commit a sinful act with her. She said to him, “Foolish one! Do you have a mikvah in which to immerse afterwards?” (In those times a man who had a seminal emission had to immerse in a mikvah before he could pray or study Torah.) Upon hearing this, the man refrained from the transgression.
This story is unusual, for if the man was willing to commit the grave sin of being intimate with a woman who was not his wife, why would he be stopped by knowing he would not be able to immerse in a mikvah, which is only a Rabbinic obligation?
Based on the above teaching, however, we can understand that the man was really a G-d fearing person who led a G-dly life. But when faced with the temptation of this woman, a spirit of foolishness overcame him, and he forgot or ignored the severity of the prohibition he was about to transgress. But when the woman reminded him of just one of the many repercussions of his action (that it would cause him a further sin of not immersing in a mikvah), this snapped him out of his temporary insanity and he was able to overcome the temptation (Pardes Yosef in the name of Yoreh Chakima).
How Does the Water Kill?
The Kli Yakar explains that the water given to the Sotah to drink is a very holy drink. The water comes from the Kiyor, the holy washbasin. The earth that is mixed into it comes from the floor of the sanctuary and the holy names of Hashem (as well as several verses of the Torah) are erased into it. If the Sotah committed adultery, this holy water cannot exit her body in the natural way as the holy water would then be passing through the reproductive organs which she used for this sin. Since the water cannot exit in the natural way, it causes her to swell up and explode. Whereas if she hadn’t sinned, then the holy water passes out of her body in the natural way. In doing so it brings a blessing to those organs, which is why she is blessed to have children that are healthy and good-looking and to have an easy labor and delivery (Penei David).
Why the Water, Earth, and G-d’s name?
Rabbi Yitzchak Karro questions why it was necessary to have the Sotah drink the water with earth of the Mishkan and G-d’s name mixed into it. Why was it not sufficient for her to simply hear the curses of the Torah for an adulterous person? He explains that this process was to remind her of the three things that prevent a person from sin. (See further.) As such, it would cause her (and anyone watching) to do teshuvah (repentance).
(If she then admits her transgression, she need not drink the water. She must simply get divorced but other than that she escapes unharmed.)
He explains that the three ingredients of this concoction remind us of the three lessons taught by Akaviah, son of Mehalalel, in Pirkei Avot (3:1)
הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְבָרִים, וְאֵין אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה.
דַּע מֵאַֽיִן בָּֽאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן.
מֵאַֽיִן בָּֽאתָ: מִטִּפָּה סְרוּחָה. וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ: לִמְקוֹם עָפָר רִמָּה וְתוֹלֵעָה. וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן: לִפְנֵי מֶֽלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא.
Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression:
Know from where you came, and where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting.
From where you came — from a putrid drop;
Where you are going — to a place of dust, maggots and worms;
And before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting — before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
In terms of the Sotah,
- The water is reminiscent of the seed from which we are all created.
- The earth alludes to the fact that we will all be buried in earth.
- And the name of Hashem that is erased into the water is to remind her (and every sinner) of the fact that they will have to stand in front of the A-lmighty one day and answer for all of their actions.
Sincere Regret must Precede Acts of Penance
The Arvei Nachal by Rabbi Dovid Shlomo Eibenschutz writes that if, after sinning, one immediately fasts in order to achieve atonement but does not do a sincere teshuvah, he is even more foolish than a regular sinner. Fasting and other acts of penance accomplish nothing if they are not accompanied by sincere regret. This is the meaning of the verse (Tehillim 107:17), אֱוִלִים מִדֶּ֣רֶךְ פִּשְׁעָ֑ם וּ֜מֵֽעֲוֹנֹ֖תֵיהֶ֣ם יִתְעַנּֽוּ. This can be translated to mean, “Even more foolish than the path of sinners are those who fast (immediately) after sinning.”
Think About It
The Be’er Mayim Chaim explains that G-d gave us the power to overcome our base instincts with our intellect. Even if a person is drawn to sin, if he thinks about the matter he will realize how detrimental it is and will cease and desist immediately.
The Torah Remedies One’s Spiritual Maladies
The Pri Tzadik (by Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin) explains that the main spiritual maladies afflicting a person are jealousy (kinah), pleasure-seeking (ta’avah), and honor-seeking (kavod). According to the Mishnah (Avot 4:21) these sins remove a person from this world.
These three maladies can lead a person to the three most severe sins: murder (caused by jealousy), idolatry (as seeking honor can be akin to worshipping a foreign god), and adultery (caused by pleasure-seeking).
The three maladies are the spiritual opposites of the three patriarchs.
- Pleasure-seeking is related to Yishma’el, son of Avraham Avinu, whose immodest behaviour stands in contrast to the positive trait of kindness (chessed) exhibited by Avraham.
- Jealousy is related to Eisav, son of Yitzchak Avinu, whose murderous behavior stands in contrast to the positive trait of severity (gevurah) which was represented by Yitzchak.
- Seeking honor is the opposite of the trait of Yaakov who exemplified complete humility, as he said (Gen. 32:11,) “I have become small (humbled) because of Your kindnesses.”
The spiritual antidote to all of these maladies is Torah.
- Regarding the desire for pleasure, the Talmud (Sukkah 52b) says, אם פגע בך מנוול זה משכהו לבית המדרש – “If this despicable thing (the evil inclination) accosts you, (seeking to tempt you to sin) drag it to the study hall (and study Torah).” The evil inclination is called despicable when it tries to entice a person to sin through immoral and lewd acts. One can overcome these desires by finding pleasure and delight in Torah study. In addition, by filling one’s mind with positive Torah thoughts he will not have room for negative and lewd thoughts. As the Rambam writes (end of the Laws of Issurei Biah), “A person should always turn himself and his thoughts to the words of the Torah and expand his knowledge in wisdom, for the thoughts of forbidden relations grow strong only in a heart which is empty of wisdom.”
- Torah is also the antidote for jealousy and anger, as King Solomon said (Kohelet 1:17), כי ברוב חכמה רב כעס which can be translated to mean “A lot of wisdom is needed to counter a lot of anger.” Similarly, the Talmud says (Nedarim 22b) that the Jewish people received the entire Tanach as a result of the sin of the golden calf. Had they not sinned, they would have only received the Five Books of Moshe and the Book of Yehoshua. We see from this that the Torah helps us combat the effects of sin and Divine wrath.
- In addition, Torah learning can only be acquired through humility. As such, proper Torah learning is an antidote to the malady of honor-seeking. This can be learned from the fact that Moshe, who was chosen to give the Torah, was considered a paradigm of humility. As he said (Exodus 16:7) “What are we?”
This is why we say in our prayers (the blessing just before the Shema in the morning) והאר עינינו בתורתך ודבק לבינו במצוותיך – brighten our eyes with Your Torah and cause our hearts to cleave to Your mitzvot. We pray for this as the main purpose of Torah study is to (spiritually) brighten our eyes and cause our hearts to be purified so that we desire to cleave to the Almighty.
May It be G-d’s Will that We Study Torah in This Uplifting Manner and thus Overcome all Temptations!
Wishing you a safe and healthy Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!