A New Person

Unfortunately, the rumors are true. A lady in our community has been pronounced by the Beis Din to be a sotah. She was sent to the Beis Hamikdash and is due to drink the special water tomorrow. What a disgrace; a public humiliation.

Her korban mincha is made of barley which used to be primarily animal food reflecting her animal-like behavior and because of her sin, it does not include levona (frankincence) or oil. But what could have led her to such reprehensible behavior? She was a fine woman from a fine family. The answer must be wine. She drank too much wine and was induced to sin. But if too much wine can bring a person to do what they normally never do do, could it happen to me? I’d better become a nazir who may not drink wine. This is what Chazal say concerning our parsha: “Why is the section about a nazir immediately after the section about a sotah? Because one who sees a sotah in her disgrace will become a nazir and forbid himself to drink wine.” (Sotah 2a).

The posuk says, “If a woman makes a vow and her husband annuls it, it is annulled and Hashem will forgive her.” (Bamidbar 30:8). If the vow was annulled why does Hashem have to forgive her? Nazir 23a explains that the posuk is talking about a lady who made a vow to be a nazira. Her husband, in the next room, heard her vow but did not agree that his wife should become a nazira. He annulled her vow, which the Torah allows him to do. His wife did not hear his annulment and presumed she was a nazira. However, she came across a bottle of sweet wine which she drank. Since she was not, in fact, a nazira she will not be punished for breaking her vow but the Torah says that she still requires Hashem to forgive her. When Rebbe Akiva heard this explanation he cried. “If someone who didn’t actually sin requires Hashem’s forgiveness, how much more so if they did sin.” (Nazir 23a) Why did Rebbe Akiva cry? Was this such an illuminating explanation? Did he not realise the gravity of sinning till now?

The Chafetz Chaim once heard about an earthquake in a faraway country, killing hundreds. Most people paused for a moment when they heard the news and then carried on with their lives as before. The Chofetz Chaim stopped what he was doing and meditated on the disaster. The earth had suddenly shifted causing buildings to collapse on top of the residents. Some died instantly. Some were trapped and later died. Tens of thousands of people were homeless. “What a tragedy!” the Chafetz Chaim groaned. And then he shouted to all who could hear him, “Vus vill der Tatte?” What is Hashem trying to tell us with this earthquake?

Undeterred by the sound of the heavy rain which was falling in Bnei Brak, Rav Aaron Leib Steinman was concentrating on his learning as usual. Suddenly he stopped and his face turned a deathly white. He stood up and slowly said the bracha  Boruch….shekocho ugevuraso molei olom. Blessed be the One whose strength and power fill the world.” – the brocho on hearing thunder. Then he returned to his learning with increased enthusiasm. “Why did the Rebbe go so white just before?” his pupils, who had also said the brocho but had quickly gone back to what they were doing, asked him. “Why does Hashem make thunder?” he asked them. “To straighten the crookedness of our hearts,” he answered, quoting Brochos 59a. “When I heard the thunder, I thought that Hashem is obviously talking to me. “ ‘Straighten the crookedness of your heart, Leibele, before it’s too late.’ Should I not turn pale after such a rebuke from Hashem?” Rav Steinman asked.[1]

One of the regulars at the shiur became suddenly ill and was niftar shortly afterwards. The other members of the shiur went to the levaya and tried their best to comfort the bereaved family at the shiva. The shiur resumed afterwards as normal. But out of all the shiur, Mr Schwarz became a changed person, getting up early to prepare for the shiur, asking good questions and spending time after the shiur reviewing. He explained that Chazal say, (Shabbos 106a) that if one of a group is niftar, the whole group has to worry. “How do we know how much time we have left?” he asked the fellow-members of the shiur.

What do all these people have in common? They have all seen or heard about something which others have all but ignored and used that event as a springbord to elevate their yiras shomayim. They have all taken to heart the statement of Chazal in our parsha. When we see a sotah and we are disgusted by her behavior and we are inspired to improve, we should not let it be just a fleeting thought. We can use it to learn how to behave or how not to behave. A volcano in Hawaii, a local thunderstorm, the sudden illness of a friend or even an acquaintance, something we hear in a shiur can be a life‑changing experience for us, if we choose.

It doesn’t have to be a sad event. If we have a new child or grandchild, we feel a surge of happiness and appreciation to Hashem. Instead of just thinking temporally about this new blessing, we can resolve to concentrate better when we say Modim, – not just today but every day. When we hear that somebody has made a Siyum Hashas, we shouldn’t just wish him a mazal tov. We can think that if he can do it, so can I. It might take years more effort but if we try our best, we also might be granted the years we require to reach that target. A hashgacha pratis story which we may have read can be forgotten by the time we put down the book or it can used to help us grow in bitachon. Our cups can become half-full.  Our simchas chayim can be revitalised. We can truly become ‘a new person.’

 

 

[1] I have just made up this story but it could well be true.

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