Saturday, 21 January 2012

Sota to Nazir: Turn Inspiration into Deed

by Ovadia (See all authors)

The following piece is in honor of R' Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk ZT"L, talmid of the Baal Shem Tov and author of the Sefer Pri Ha'aretz whose Yartzeit was recently on Rosh Chodesh Iyar.

It has been mentioned on the forum in various contexts, that many of us felt disgusted and nauseated the first time that we saw shmutz. Yet somehow we managed to get sucked in and to have "pleasure" from it. How can this paradox be understood from a Torah perspective?

In Parshas Naso the section which deals with Nazir is placed immediately after the section which deals with Sota. Chazal make the connection between the two Mitzvot, and say that "one who witnesses the Sota in her degradation should prohibit wine to himself by taking a Nazarite vow".

The obvious question is, that the logical assumption would be that having seen the horrific death of a Sota, a person should be inspired to sin less. Yet the implication is that precisely as a result of this, he is more likely to sin?
Says R' Menachem Mendel ZT"L that inspiration is a double edged knife. On the one hand, watching the death of the Sota can shock a person and impress upon him the severity of such behavior and actions. On the other hand, the exposure to new knowledge can be detrimental, as it opens up new possibilities to sin. Of course a person's immediate reaction to such a scene is to be inspired and resolve to improve, but eventually the impression wears off and the person is left with more knowledge, only now without the inspiration. The result of this is catastrophic. The only way to preserve the inspiration is by translating thought into action. This is what Chazal meant when they said that one who witnesses the Sota in her degradation should prohibit wine to himself by taking a Nazarite vow.

R' Dessler ZT"L explains that the "memory" of the heart has the same mechanism as the mental memory. Just like a person's memory can be triggered by a tiny connection to the event, so too, by associating inspiration with an action, subsequently that action will always bring the original inspiration back into focus. By taking on the Nazarite vow, he puts the original inspiration into a deed, and this will help him retain the inspiration.

What we can learn from this, is that whenever we feel inspired, we need to make a new commitment in the area of "deed". Otherwise, the inspiration is like a soul without a body, and it will quickly dissipate.

There is a further source which will help to give a deeper understanding of the Torah approach to this phenomenon.

The Torah instructs all soldiers going to war to be equipped with a spade to cover their excrement. The Ibin Ezra comments on this that any disgusting thing that a person sees has a detrimental effect on his Neshama.

R' Dessler ZT"L elaborates on this in the following way. We think that a person's aversion to seeing things that disgust him is built in to a person's physical nature. However in reality, it is a spiritual quality. Every person has a point of Tumah deep inside him. When one is exposed to impurity, then this Tumah is aroused and has the ability to posses them and distance them from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Therefore, to protect his spirituality, a Jewish soldier must protect himself from any exposure to filth whatsoever.