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G-d spoke to Moses saying, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them, 'A man or a woman who shall dissociate himself by taking a Nazerite vow of abstinence for the sake of G-d… shall abstain from wine… and a razor shall not pass over his head… he shall not have any contact with a dead body" (6:1-6)
The long central section of Parashat Naso includes the sections dealing with Sotah (the suspected unfaithful wife) and Nazir (taking on an additional personal status of holiness, prohibiting having a haircut or drinking wine).
The Talmud (Sotah 2a) brings the tradition that the reason the topic of Nazir follows that of Sotah is to teach that anyone who saw the harsh, degrading ordeal that the Sotah was put through should abstain from wine because it can bring a person to commit adultery.
No wine is easy to understand. There is nothing like alcohol to loosen inhibitions, and melt the social barriers between men and women. And the untidy, unkempt, appearance coming from letting 'the hair grow wild' (6:5), will not go down well with the 'society ladies'. Both those prohibitions will keep him away from that sort of company where he might be tempted to follow the example of the guilty adulteress, But what about the third prohibition: no contact with any dead body. On the contrary - surely a person with potential for adultery should see the dead. As the Talmud puts it:
Akaviah the son of Mehalalel says (3:1) 'Look carefully at three things and you will never come to sin. Know where you came from; where you are going and; before whom you will give an accounting for what you have done. Where did you come from? A putrid drop. Where are you going? To a place of dust, worms and maggots. Before whom will you give an accounting for all you've done? Before the King of all Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He' (Ethics of the Fathers 3:1)
There is nothing more sobering than seeing a corpse. It humbles a person to think that he will also be one when he or she reaches 120 - and time waits for no-one. So if the Torah wants a person to keep as far away from adultery as possible, why should he be forbidden, rather than encouraged, to become ritually defiled through a dead person?
It can be suggested that the Mishna and the Torah talk about different circumstances. A person should value his time, be humble, and prepare that his soul will face G-d for The Examination. That is true, in general. But many a person in contact with an adultery case of the Sotah variety will suffer a side affect. However much he condemns it in public, there may well be a small part of him who thinks - 'Well, at least they had a good time. And, as evidenced by the corpse, I am not going to live forever - I might also have some fun while I can still enjoy it'. So it is actually the corpse which in a round about way which will bring him to sin - lowering him into the into the mentality of, as the Prophet puts it: 'Eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die'.
So the Torah tells a person who has, through no fault of his own, come in contact with sin, to conduct his life in such a way that he will be as far away from it as possible. Exemplified by Sotah, he is distancing himself from it socially - wine and personal appearance. And his being prohibited to defile himself through a corpse keeps him at a spiritual remoteness from adultery.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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