Parshas Naso; Nazir, Sotah, and Wine : This week’s sedra of Nasso starts with the counting of parts of the Leviim (perek 4), then moves swiftly on to small parts of tumah and some false oaths, as well as the laws of the Sotah (5). Afterwards, (6) we are told about nazir and birkas Kohannim, and then (7) the identical korbanos of the nesiim (in the order of their encampments).
Now, whilst there is much to discuss (as one would expect from 176 psukim); for example, the korbanos brought by each nasi were identical, and one of the reasons given as to why each is mentioned in its entirety (as opposed to just saying ‘each nasi brought…’) is to show us the great level that each nasi did not want to outdo the other ones. But that is not what we shall focus on this week.
Rather, let’s ask a variation of an often asked question; why are the portions of Sotah and Nazir

juxtaposed? And, luckily, we have Rashi (6;2) (quoting gemarra Sotah 2a) who answers that it’s to tell us that ‘anyone who sees a Sotah in her disgraced state will refrain (‘yazir atzmo‘) from wine (via nezirus) because wine leads to adultery.’ However, in order to deepen our understanding of this, we must ask a central question; if anything it should be the other way round - given that the impression from watching the Sotah process is so moving and impacting, then surely the only safe time to have wine is after having seen the Sotah process - then there is virtually no chance of doing anything wrong? (question I read in the sefer of R’ Ezriel from Gateshead)
Two answers can be suggested to this. The Ramban says that the way one makes an abstract feeling of inspiration permanent is via making a vessel for it; ie putting it into a positive commitment; by doing something good. (This is highly relevant nowadays with so much of the external world based around feelings or experiences with little effect or achievement to show for it.) This, it can be suggested, is the meaning of the Rashi (and gemarra); that one who sees a Sotah in her state will be so moved that he will immediately take on something - to refrain from wine. (R’ Ezriel). The only problem is that the abstaining from wine is not central to the point here; why did this onlooker not take on anything else if the point is that he was emotionally moved and made a physical vessel as a result? Take on to daven better for example? And it is a bit difficult to say that he happened to take on to abstain from wine because it is connected to the causes of Sotah (like a memory association between the two) but he really could have taken on anything else, because the connection/comparison seems to be more central than this. Rather, we can offer an alternative explanation. The central thing a Nazir refrains from is wine - as expressed in the psukim (6;3 - and Rashi says ‘shechar’ means wine too). Let us try and understand what wine is exactly. (This part is basically all from R’ Tatz). The physical world is defined by decay - all physical things rot away eventually. This is why it says that a tzaddik increases wisdom as he ages (‘od yenuvun beseiva’ we say every Friday night, as R’ Yossi echoes in gemarra shabbes 142a); since he and wisdom are not limited to the physical attributes of decay. Wine, interestingly enough, gets better the older it is - it is not completely part of the physical world. And on purim the phrase is used ‘when wine goes in (to mouth/stomach) sod comes out’ (sod is a Hebrew word meaning secret!) - a very deep phrase connecting wine with the bringing out of one’s essence. In fact, part of the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov is to drink wine at the Yom Tov meals. Thus, wine is used whenever there is a rise in kedusha. For example, we use it in Kiddush on Shabbes, in welcoming in the sanctity of Shabbes. And we use it in Havdalah too, because that is what’s called a yeridah letzorech aliyah - a downward hill (from Shabbes to the week) in order to reach even higher up at next week’s Shabbes. But the rule is that everything that has a high spiritual power when used positively can also be used in a very bad way negatively. For example, at Achashveiroshe’s seudah in the Purim story they were drinking wine in impurity. Someone once told me that this is actually the point of everything that is termed a ‘To’evah’ - abomination; that it means the using of a potentially powerful positive spiritual tool for the negative. This is also why the Targum translates the word To’eva as merchaka, ie that which distances us from HaShem, for it is using a positive tool for negative purposes. Let’s take forbidden marriages or bestiality; that is taking an immense spiritual power of deep connection and turning it into impurity and lust. So too does the gemarra (shabbes 10a) refer to toevah referring to someone using their davening as a means to finish their learning early (this does not mean one should carry on learning instead of davening; it refers to when one uses that as a purpose of davening), because again it’s the using of the immense power of davening for a negative thing. This spiritual power of wine helps us to explain a strange part of the Torah; when Noach comes out of the ark, he plants a vineyard, has wine, and eventually gets drunk. This seems at the very least a bit out of place and at the most extremely puzzling. Why plant a vineyard of all things? The answer has been given (and it’s based on the above) that he thought - after the world’s new beginning - that it was time for a raise in kedusha (and possibly even time of Moshiach), and so needed to have wine. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that one opinion on the gemarra - and that of the Zohar - is that the fruit that Adam HaRishon ate from in the original sin was grapes).
Using all this, one can explain the Rashi/gemarra we began with…that ‘one who sees a Sotah in her state will abstain from wine, because wine causes adultery.’ The point is that when this onlooker sees the Sotah process, (since adultery is caused by wine) an assumption will be that wine had something to do with this.

Consequently, he’ll realise that wine - with all its potential of bringing out kedusha - is being used amongst bnei yisrael for the negative. And so he’ll take a step back and make a calculation that it’s better that I abstain from wine to cause minimum risk of adultery (and so too forego the kedusha of it) than utilising the wine and running the risk. Perhaps this is why the (seemly superfluous word ‘atzmo’) is used here; atzmo means ‘oneself’ but also means ‘one’s essence - their true spiritual being’- for we are talking about one who removes his etzem (his spiritual essence) from the power and potential of wine. Have a great Shabbes,

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