Parashat Naso: A Warning Even To Us
The Torah in Parashat Naso discusses the law of Sota, a woman suspected of infidelity. This is a situation where a husband warns his wife in the presence of witnesses not to go into seclusion with a certain man, with whom the husband suspects she is having an inappropriate relationship. If witnesses later testify that she had been secluded with the man in question, then the husband brings her to the Bet Hamikdash where is she given special water to drink. If she is guilty of infidelity, then the water kills her. Of course, even if she is innocent of this offense and does not die as a result of drinking the water, she is not entirely innocent. She has already committed a certain form of infidelity by arousing her husband’s suspicion and going into seclusion with another man. It goes without saying that this is strictly forbidden and wholly inappropriate, not to mention a grave betrayal of her husband’s trust.
What kind of a woman is this, who engaged in some sort of inappropriate relationship with another man?
Intuitively, we might assume that we deal here with a very immodest and flirtatious woman, probably a woman without much religious background and who was not necessarily committed to the Torah way of life to begin with. But the Torah’s description of the Sota ceremony makes it clear that this is not the case. The Torah instructs that when the woman arrives at the Bet Hamikdash, the Kohen uncovers her hair. The clear implication is that she had her hair covered, as Halacha requires. In other words, this is an otherwise religious woman, somebody who generally observed Torah law, but somehow found herself involved in an inappropriate relationship with another man.
The Yeser Hara does not discriminate or play favorites. It lures and applies pressure to everyone, regardless of their religious background or current religious standing. We tend to think that because we’re observant, we are free from certain spiritual dangers, that the Torah’s warnings don’t apply to us. The story of the Sota teaches us that this is very far from the truth. Even a woman wearing a kerchief covering every strand of hair is susceptible to the machinations of the Yeser Hara. Regardless of what kind of Kippa, hat or whatever else a man has on his hand, he is a target of the evil inclination that looks to ensnare all people. It might even be argued that religiously observant people must exercise even greater vigilance due to the natural tendency to assume that we are safe. Nobody has the luxury of resting on his or her laurels and assuming that he or she is safe from the clutches of the Yeser Hara.
The section of the Sota is followed by the laws of the Nazir, somebody who decides to take a vow to abstain from wine (in addition to other prohibitions). The Sages explain that the Torah juxtaposes these two sections because a person who sees what happens to a Sota should abstain from wine as a precaution to avoid improper behavior. We might have thought that to the contrary, somebody who witnesses the horrific scene of a Sota’s death would be shaken to the core and naturally disinclined to such sins. In truth, however, the sight of the Sota, just seeing somebody who committed this grievous sin, desensitizes a person to the gravity of adultery. And thus one who sees a Sota, and whose sensitivity to the severity of sin has thus been compromised, needs to reinforce his defenses by abstaining from intoxicating beverages.
The message of the Nazir assumes particular importance in our times, when we live in a culture in which sin not only occurs, but is glorified. In today’s entertainment industry, unrestrained conduct and adulterous relationships are not just tolerated, but celebrated. Exposure to this culture has a dangerous desensitizing effect, dulling our instinctive revulsion to such behavior. Especially in our day and age, we, like the Nazir, must be on guard and set safeguards in place to neutralize this influence. It is not enough that we are religiously observant; this alone does not grant us immunity from the Yeser Hara. The message of the Sota is relevant even to us, and, perhaps, especially to us, cautioning us to resist the influences of our society in order to maintain the standards of purity and holiness that the Torah demands.