Abstinence and Indulgence: A Balancing Act by Leo Metzger


In this week’s Parashah, we read of several unusual rituals. One such ritual is the process by which a Sotah, a woman suspected of being unfaithful to her husband, is tested to determine if she has, indeed, been unfaithful. According to the Mishnaic description of the actual process, the Sanhedrin, the high court stationed in the Beit HaMikdash, first urges the woman to confess and thereby preclude the necessity of the ritual. If the woman maintains her innocence, she takes the Sotah test by drinking a concoction containing ink scraped from a parchment bearing the Parashat HaSotah, a special passage relating to the laws of testing the Sotah. If guilty, the woman quite literally pops; if innocent, she lives.

Interestingly, immediately following the Sotah ritual we read of the Nazir who takes on extra stringencies of purity, and the processes involved with acquiring, maintaining, and releasing the Nezirut status. The question arises as to why we read of the Sotah, someone associated with impurity, immediately before reading about a Nazir, someone associated with a high degree of purity. Perhaps the two concepts follow one another because many people who saw the Sotah ritual taking place became Nazirim (Sotah 2a). These people saw the harm that could come from overindulging in earthly pleasure, and wanted to distance themselves from such pleasure as much as possible. Another explanation for the proximity of Nazir and Sotah may be that the Nazir actually sins in a manner similar to that of the Sotah. Both Nazir and Sotah are abusing the wonderful things that Hashem gave mankind, albeit in different ways. The Sotah sins by overindulging in the physical world, while the Nazir sins by completely separating himself from it. Hashem gave mankind earthly pleasures for a reason and we do not enjoy the right to decide that they are evil. Furthermore, it is possible that the Nazir’s sin is not just abstaining, but in thinking that his abstinence can save him from future harm. He is essentially trying to “outsmart” Hashem and save himself from pain and suffering.

This idea that man cannot understand the ways of Hashem, and should not try to, remains especially applicable in modern times. People too often think that they know best and if they steer clear of certain things and refuse to learn about them, or simply deny their existence, they will never succumb to the temptations that these things represent. However, this often does more harm than good. A Ba’al Teshuvah, for example, knows the dangers and pitfalls of life very well, as he has experienced them firsthand, and therefore knows enough to stay away. On the other hand, one who tries to remain sheltered with the attitude, “it will never happen to me,” will be totally defenseless when he must ultimately confront the issue, and will most likely fall. One day, such a person might wake up, and, with no idea of how he strayed so far, will only know, “it did happen to me.”

Though there are times when there is merit in completely removing oneself from a situation, as in the case of a Nazir, rather than run and hide, we must safely arm ourselves with facts and information. With such tools at our disposal, we will be able to control and restrain ourselves so that we never stray too far from our path and become a Sotah, one who has gone beyond the point of no return.

Leaving Hashem Behind by Rabbi Raphi Mandelstam

Persecution Promotes Prosperity by Josh Schwartz