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8 Sivan 5761 - May 30, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
An Air of Foolishness

by L. Jungerman

"Ki sisteh -- if she goes astray: This teaches that a person only sins when a spirit of foolishness (shtus) seizes him" (Maseches Sotah 3).

Chazal relegate sin to the sphere of influence of the intellect and conclude, therefore, that a person sins because he has been seized by a spirit of foolishness which shunted aside his good sense. But do we not say that it is his evil inclination that overcame him and caused him to sin? Would it not be more fitting to conclude that: a person only sins if his evil inclination gets the better of him?

The error in these questions lies in semantics, in the definition that we attribute to the term shtus -- foolishness. This is not temporary insanity nor stupidity. Chazal use this term to describe an unnatural growth, like a strange tumor, a mutation. In this context, we find Chazal relating to a myrtle that has more than three leaves at each junction as a hadas shoteh. In what way is it shoteh? Was it ever of sound mind and lost its sanity? Rather, this is a myrtle that grew unnaturally; that is its shtus.

This interpretation has halachic implications. Halachic authorities through the ages dealt with instances of divorces and marriages that were contracted between people who were of unsound mind, and intricate problems were thus caused concerning the legitimacy of the ensuing relationships since the marriage and divorce contracts of people considered shotim, not mentally responsible or sound, are invalid. Complex, involved deliberations dealt with the establishment of an accurate determination of what constituted a shoteh, in other words, what degree of irresponsibility-for-one's-conduct determines when a marriage/divorce is valid or not.

Chazal established definite signs to identify the shoteh: "He sleeps at night, alone, in a cemetery, rips his clothing and destroys things [of value] given to him." To be sure, each case raised the ponderous question of whether to make valid comparisons between these examples and other behavior.

One question arose concerning a person whose intellect does not develop according to his chronological age. He thinks logically, but is not intellectually mature for his stage in life. A man of forty talking like a clever child of ten is lacking something. The Torah sages who had to deal with these questions analyzed the problem as follows: An odom shoteh is like a hadas shoteh: a person whose intellect has not developed properly according to his age is considered a shoteh, a misfit.

We now turn back to the rule of "A person only sins when a spirit of shtus seizes him." This means that a person who is born straightforward, as Hashem created him, that is, normal, does not generally sin! Cut and dried. A man does not sin unless a ruach shtus seizes him, a whim of "And they sought devious ways."

In the natural course, in the straightforward nature of a person's soul, intellect and common sense, he is not prone to sin. Only in a convoluted course that a person chooses can he contemplate the possibility of sin.

What is another name for the Torah with its code of 613 commandments? Sefer Hayoshor -- the "Book of the Straight" (Shmuel II 1). And how are the Ovos, who kept the Torah and its commandments even before it was given, referred to? The straight ones, yeshorim. (Avoda Zora 25). What is the name given to Yaakov Ovinu, who completed the founding dynasty of the Jewish people? "And You called his name Yisroel and Yeshurun" (in korbonos of the morning prayers).

This establishes what we said: straightforwardness and normality, the starting point of every person, give no allowance for sin. A person does not [normally, generally] sin unless he is seized by a spirit of shtus, a swerving from the beaten path, a mutation, an incongruence and anomaly, like the mutant and abnormal myrtle.

When the Ramban discusses Odom Horishon in Parshas Bereishis (2:9), he says, "And it seems best to me [to say] that Odom naturally did what was right and proper, in the same manner as the heavens and their hosts carry out the will of Hashem; they will never veer off orbit, and they do not do their tasks with love or hatred. Perhaps the Torah was referring to this idea when it states: `Whereby Elokim created man straightforward but they sought out many calculations' (Koheles 7:29)."

R' Yeruchom of Mir zt'l writes: From here we can see the awesomeness of the trait of yosher, that it determines deeds naturally, instinctively, as a matter of course, without contriving.

Chazal tell us in maseches Shabbos (88) of a Tzeduki who said to Rovo: "What an impetuous people you are, that you preceded your mouths to your ears" (in saying "We will do" before "We will hear"). Replied Rovo, "We proceed completely, wholly, and it is written regarding us, `The integrity of the upright shall guide them' (Mishlei 11:3), while regarding you, it is said, `but the perverseness of the faithless shall destroy them.' This upholds this very principle that the secret of our declared na'aseh prior to nishma is a direct result of `the integrity of the upright shall guide them.' "

The trait of straightforwardness and integrity naturally dictates that one act without prior investigations, to follow one's correct instinct without questioning. We will do -- that's that! And if a person will not stand up to the demands of na'aseh before nishma, it is not only a default in his degree and level but constitutes a condition of "the perverseness of the faithless shall destroy them." If there exists the possibility or even the mere thought of doing otherwise, it indicates that he is not straightforward and true. He is sinning in "and they sought devious calculations."

Where is the beginning of the grievous condition of "the perverseness of the faithless?" In the lack of a decisive and immutable resolve not to veer from na'aseh venishma. Unless he negated himself completely, without the inkling of a counter-thought, he is not straightforward. He harbors a root that can develop into the "perverseness of the faithless."

(Daas Torah Parshas Bamidbor)

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