Thursday, May 24, 2018
The Holy and the Mundane
by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El
Dedicated to the memory of R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai
THE CALF-SOTAH CONNECTION
Our sages of Blessed Memory compared the Sin of the Golden Calf with the plight of the unfaithful wife, the "Sotah", that appears in this week’s Torah portion. Immediately following the Giving of the Torah - Matan Torah - after the wedding of the Community of Israel with the Holy One Blessed be He, we, the nation of Israel, "went astray." Just as the Torah mandates that the Sotah be made to drink a special liquid as part of the process of determining her guilt, Moshe Rabeinu obligated the Jews - in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf - to drink a special liquid mixture. Whomever had participated in the sin of the Calf was smitten as a result.
What was unique about the "Sotah" water? How did it determine whether or not a particular woman - suspected of infidelity - was truly unfaithful to her husband?
To understand the dynamic at work here, we should note that the liquid was composed of water, "Mayim Chayim", dust from the Tabernacle ("Mishkan"), and crushed parchment from a scroll on which several verses and the name of God were written. All of the ingredients were mixed together into a holy drink; if an unfaithful wife partook of it, she would be smitten. A process, described graphically by the Torah, begins - ultimately leading to her tragic death.
The procedure of the Sotah teaches us that holiness and moral turpitude, spiritual impurity, simply cannot live under the same roof. Thus, when they confront one another, there is a clash - a sort of "explosion" - that leads to the death of the sinner. If the woman turns out not to have sinned in the first place, if she has continued to live a holy, moral life, she becomes a beneficiary of additional holiness: Thus, the Torah promises, if she had earlier been barren, she now, after drinking this unique mixture, will be able to conceive and give birth to a child.
A PRACTICAL APPLICATION
We, as Jews devoted to serving God, should be committed yet cautious not to attempt to rise too quickly on the path towards holiness; excessive tension between a newly-found holy lifestyle and the Jew who wishes to absorb this holiness, may well bring about an "explosion." This is what occurred to most of the four rabbis who entered the mystical "orchard" (see Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:1): Three of them were harmed in one way or another as a result of that experience, since they were not sufficiently prepared for their encounter with holiness. Only Rabbi Akiva, who made sure to prepare himself for that event, "entered and exited in peace" - and was, like the "faithful wife", deserving of an extra level of holiness over and above that which he possessed before the mystical encounter.
NAZIR: A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD
The Nazirite, or "Nazir", is a holy man. With the laws of the Nazir, the Torah provides an avenue for a Jew to rise to higher levels of kedusha (holiness) should he so choose. A Nazir is nevertheless warned not to permit anything to impinge upon his newly-acquired status. He may not, therefore, allow himself to be defiled through contact with a corpse; he must let his hair grow long, and must not drink wine.
The Jewish approach to wine is two-fold. On the one hand, we are told by King David in the book of Tehilim (Psalms) that "wine gladdens a man’s heart." Simcha, or joy, is an expression of completeness, says the great Maharal of Prague. Wine is used as a libation on the altar and is also the choice drink for saying Kiddush on Shabbat each week. One the other hand, excessive consumption of wine leads to drunkenness, to a dulling of the senses, and to an intensification of man’s animal drives.
Our understanding of the Nazir also reflects this dichotomy: >From one angle, he is considered holy, but from another perspective, he is a sinner. (Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 11a) There are times when an ascetic approach is appropriate. This was the case during our lengthy exile, when we lived outside of our Land; asceticism, a removal of ourselves from the physical world, was a crucial aspect of service of God. Since we have returned to our Land, however, to the source of our national life, we are bidden to return to an approach that stresses not separation from - but sanctification of - our material reality . In this more holistic view, anchored in our return to Eretz Yisrael, Kedusha is attained chiefly through our elevation of the physical world...
Posted by Jason Gold-Editor at 5/24/2018 07:06:00 AM