Sotah and the Source of Holiness by Alex Feldman


The majority of Parashat Naso details the individual gifts brought by the Nesi’im in honor of the Chanukat HaMishkan; the Parashah does discuss other topics, though, most notably the case of an Ishah Sotah, a woman suspected of adultery by her husband. The Gemara (Sotah 2a) wonders why the laws of a Sotah are juxtaposed with those of a Nazir. It answers that after the Sotah undergoes the experience delineated in the Parashah, an onlooker will vow to abstain from wine and become a Nazir. The connection between wine and sexual immorality is not uncommon in Tanach; we see it with Noach and his vineyard, as well as with Lot and his daughters.

If we look deeper into the Parashah, we can glean a different understanding. As mentioned above, a third topic in Parashat Naso is the dedication of the Mishkan. There are several apparent similarities between the Nazir and the Kohein pointed out by Rav Amnon Bazak. The Kohanim are called “holy to their God” (VaYikra 21:6), as is the Nazir (BeMidbar 6:8). Additionally, both the Nazir and the Kohein are instructed to refrain from alcohol. Finally, the Nazir and the Kohein are both commanded to keep away from corpses. There is, however, a clear difference between a Kohein and a Nazir. While both have similar laws, the Kohein's Kedushah is connected to his service (VaYikra 21:6-8) while the Nazir can accept this additional level at any point, even without performing service in the Mikdash. In this respect, the Nazir is similar to a Kohein Gadol, whose Kedushah stems from his anointment (21:10-12). The Kohein Gadol has two crowns, both called a “Neizer.” His anointment is dubbed this in Sefer VaYikra (21:12), while in Shemot (29:6), the same word describes the Mitznefet that the Kohen Gadol would wear on his head. In the very next Pasuk, the Torah mentions the anointment of the Kohein Gadol. It is the crown of the Kohein – his anointment and permanent hold on the position – that gives him his holiness, not his service, as is the case with other Kohanim. The Nazir also has a crown: He is prohibited from cutting his hair – which would cause it to grow long and become a symbol of his dedication to God. The Torah even says that reason that he cannot become impure from a corpse is because of his “Neizer” (BeMidbar 6:7).

There are also major differences between the Kohein and the Nazir. The Kohein Gadol has permanent sanctity. He is forbidden to grow out his hair as it is not the root of his holiness; rather, it is the anointment and headpiece. The Nazir, on the other hand, must grow his hair while in service and shave it when he is done. It is very temporary and does not elevate him for all of his life. This difference is evident in a few of the laws that differ between the two. A Kohein cannot marry a divorcee and it is illicit for a Kohein Gadol to even marry a widow. A Nazir is also excluded from the privileges that a Kohein enjoys, like eating from Terumah or Korbanot. These laws show us that while a Nazir can reach a tremendously high status, he is not permanently at that level. Any Jew can be as holy as a Kohein Gadol, but only the Kohein himself has that job forever.

With this understanding we can gain a new perspective with regard to the comparison between the Nazir and Sotah. Again, Rav Bazak shows a number of textual similarities. While introducing the Sotah, the Torah writes, “VaYedabeir Hashem El Moshe Leimor: Dabeir El Bnei Yisrael VeAmarta Aleihem Ish Ish Ki Tisteh Ishto UMa’ala Vo Ma’al,” “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: Any man whose wife goes astray and acts unfaithfully to him’” (5:11-12). To begin discussing Nazir, it states “VaYedabeir Hashem El Moshe Leimor: Dabeir El Bnei Yisrael VeAmarta Aleihem Ish O Ishah Ki Yafli LiNdor Neder Nazir LeHazir LaShem,” “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them: A man or women that will make a vow to be a Nazir to Hashem’” (6: 1-2). They also both conclude with the phrase “Zot Torat…” “This is the law of…” (5:29, 6:21). These similarities serve to contrast the two incidents. A Sotah is at a very low spiritual level while Nazir is as high as a Kohein Gadol. These examples show how a person can achieve so much or plummet so low. There are constantly opportunities in our lives to be great or to fall short of our potential; we must recognize those times and attempt to succeed as best as we can.

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