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11 Sivan 5762 - May 22, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Nozir's Holiness: A Shmuess For Parshas Nosso

by HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

A Practical Result

Chazal tell us that, "Whoever sees a sotoh's disgrace should separate himself from wine [by vowing to become a nozir]." Our master and teacher, HaRav Yehuda Leib Chasman zt'l noted that the words "whoever sees" make it clear that this recommendation is addressed to everyone, to great Torah scholars as well as to ordinary people. "Disgrace" here refers to the [public] shaming of the sotoh [prior to her drinking the water], whose purpose [besides encouraging her to confess] was to serve as a deterrent to others, as the posuk (Yechezkel 23:48, cited by the gemora in Sotoh 7) says.

The Mabit says that if a person witnesses a sotoh's disgrace, he is moved to go and study mussar and his feelings will be aroused. Nevertheless, it is imperative that this arousal have some concrete expression, which is why Chazal advise becoming a nozir. This was Chazal's meaning when they said, "Wherever a person's deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will last" (Ovos 3:9): When a person is moved by learning mussar, he needs to find some practical way of sustaining his arousal, otherwise it will fade away. He must do something that corresponds to Chazal's advice in the case of sotoh to "separate himself from wine."

Our master and teacher said that the words "whoever sees" even refer to a great tzaddik such as the Chofetz Chaim zt'l. While we know that the Chofetz Chaim was a very great tzaddik, we still have no idea of how very great he really was. Someone who learned in Ponevezh Yeshiva told me that once in a vaad, HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, offered proof that the neshomoh continues to exist after death. He testified that as an avreich, he himself had witnessed a neshomoh coming to the Chofetz Chaim to request a tikkun -- the Chofetz Chaim was that great!

"Whoever sees a sotoh" -- if the Chofetz Chaim were to witness the shaming of a sotoh, he would take practical steps to retain the impression it made upon him. He would go home and say, "For now, we won't make kiddush on wine but on the challos," separating himself from wine so as to follow Chazal's advice. He would take a vow of nezirus for thirty days.

A Protective Fence

The Ibn Ezra explains that a nozir wears a crown of spirituality. The word nezer is used by the posuk (Vayikro 21:12) to refer to a crown, when speaking about the Cohen Godol: "for the crown of the oil, of [Hashem's] anointment is upon him." The Baal Haturim notes that this is why the Torah forbids him to become tomei by coming into contact with dead bodies. Since the Shechinoh rests upon him because of his nezirus, he must avoid all suspicion that he makes inquiries of the dead, or that he is involved with witchcraft, chas vesholom. It must be clear that his special character arises from holiness.

The holy Alshich zt'l, explains the posuk, "And afterwards the nozir shall drink wine" (Bamidbor 6:21). The Alshich asks why the posuk still calls him a nozir when referring to the time after the period of his nezirus. He explains that having taken a vow of nezirus and assumed the holiness of nezirus, he is now able to drink wine yet remain on the same level of holiness as during his nezirus.

We need to understand what it is about the nozir that makes him so great as to attain such kedushoh for having separated himself from wine for thirty days. The posuk (Bamidbor 6:2) says, "Ish ki yafli, a man who separates," which Rashi explains as an expression of abstinence. The Ibn Ezra says that it means that he is doing something out-of- the-ordinary, something wondrous. The posuk (Devorim 6:5) says, "And you shall love Hashem . . . with all your heart . . . " Chazal say that the words "bechol levovecho," refer to serving Hashem, "with both your impulses, with both the yetzer tov and the yetzer hora."

The Sifrei on this posuk comments, "Rabbi Yashioh said, `From here we see that tzaddikim make their yetzer swear.' " In other words, they are worried about whether they will stand up to the yetzer hora, so they encourage themselves by swearing. Thus we find that Avrohom Ovinu said to the king of Sodom, "I raise my hand [in an oath] to Hashem . . . that I will not take a thread or a shoelace . . . " (Bereishis 14:22-3). Similarly, Boaz said, " . . . [an oath], lie [here] until the morning", making his yetzer take an oath (Ruth 3:13).

Tzaddikim worry about whether they will manage to stand up to the yetzer hora so they make oaths, since, "Vows are protection for separation" [from worldly desires] (Ovos 3:13).

Our master and teacher explained why vows protect against worldly desires, in the following way: if a person is chas vesholom used to transgressing a certain aveiroh, he should make a vow not to do it any more. Since he is not used to breaking vows, he will be afraid to transgress the aveiroh of breaking his vow and he will thus manage to stop doing his original aveiroh.

This explanation does not refer to great tzaddikim, but to ordinary people who need protection against doing aveiros. If such a person knows that he is afraid of transgressing a vow, it can protect him from doing further aveiros.

The Nozir from the South

The gemora (Nedorim 9) tells us that, "Shimon Hatzaddik said, `I never ate from the oshom of a nozir who had become tomei, with one exception. Once a man came, a nozir from the south, with handsome eyes and a good appearance and his locks arranged in curls. I said to him, "Why are you destroying this beautiful hair of yours?"

`He said, "I was [working as] a shepherd for my father in our town and I went to fill up with water from the well. I gazed at my reflection and my yetzer leapt upon me and wanted to drive me from the world. I said to him, `Wicked one! Why are you taking pride in a world that does not belong to you, in someone who will one day be dust and rot? The [fitting] way to serve [Hashem] is that I should shave you off, for Heaven's sake.' " ' "

We need to understand what the man's complaint against himself was for, "taking pride in a world that does not belong to you." It would have been quite enough had he merely called himself a rosho. We only find the expression, "a world that is not yours," several times in Shas. What exactly does it mean?

The gemora in Nedorim asks why Shimon Hatzaddik only refrained from eating from the oshom of nezirim who had become tomei because they were brought to atone for sin. Why didn't he refrain from eating the oshom offerings brought by all nezirim at the end of their nezirus, for they are all brought to atone for sin? The gemora answers, "Rabbi Yonah said . . . `This is why. When they have misgivings, they vow nezirus, then when they become tomei . . . they regret having undertaken it [thus undermining their original resolution] and they bring ordinary animals [i.e. not sanctified -- since the basis of their acceptance is gone, so is the basis for the animals' becoming sanctified as sacrifices] to the courtyard [of the Beis Hamikdosh].' "

The Ran explains that in the case of the nozir from the south, this suspicion did not exist. His intentions had been worthy from the outset and it was thus clear that he would have no regrets even after he became tomei and had to begin counting his nezirus again. Tosafos explains the gemora's answer as being that when the others regret their sins and worry about suffering because of them, they vow to become nezirim as a protective measure. When they become tomei and have to start counting again, they have regrets [since their motivation was not entirely pure to begin with].

The rationale for these explanations is that when Chazal say that "vows are protection for separation," they refer to protection before having done the aveiroh, in order to avoid doing it. Then, undertaking nezirus helps; this was what the nozir who came from the south did. Other nezirim however, made their undertaking after they had sinned. In their case, there were ample grounds to suppose that if they became tomei and had to start again, they would regret their vow.

The Character of the Talmid Chochom

In maseches Derech Eretz Zutah (perek 1), we learn, "It is the way of talmidei chachomim to be humble" -- that is, without any trace of pride, as we find in the case of the nozir from the south. The Maharsho explains that the gemora mentions that the nozir came from the south because he was wise, as indicated by his self- rebuke, and we find that the southerly direction is associated with wisdom: "Whoever wants to become wise should turn towards the south."

The beraissa in Derech Eretz lists further characteristics of talmidei chachomim: "lowly of spirit, eager . . . "

I once heard a definition of the trait of eagerness and alacrity from the gaon HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l. The posuk (Bereishis 24:18), tells us that Rivka, "hurried and lowered her pitcher onto her hand." What is the distance between the shoulder and the hand? asked HaRav Lopian. It takes perhaps a moment to lower a pitcher. Yet the Torah writes for eternity that "she hurried," because alacrity is alacrity, even when there is only a slight difference.

Another characteristic mentioned is, "memulo, filled", a term which is explained in the third perek of maseches Kallah: "Some say that it says, `memuloch, mixed' . . . as the posuk (Shemos 30:35) says [about the ketores], `mixed and pure,' meaning that a talmid chochom should be pleasant towards everyone and he should not be like a pot [of food] that lacks salt." This refers to the advice given in Ovos (3:12), "Rabbi Yishmoel says, `Receive every person joyfully.' " Rashi explains, "Your speech should be pleasant towards every man."

I once spoke about Rav Reuven Miletsky who, in his youth, travelled to visit great Torah scholars and tzaddikim. He heard about a certain tzaddik -- Reb Leib Chossid zt'l -- who was renowned for his great piety. When he knocked on Reb Leib's door, he heard someone inside running. It was Reb Leib zt'l who opened the door, extended both hands and brought him inside with great joy. Reb Leib placed his hand on Reb Reuven's shoulder and spoke with him for ten minutes, as though he already knew him. In the middle of his conversation, he asked him, "What's your first name and your family name?" This is an example of "greeting every person joyfully."

Here is another example of how tzaddikim should greet others, like Reb Leib Chossid did, in contrast to ordinary people. If a person meets two people, one of whom he already knows and the other whom he does not, he gives a hearty welcome to his friend, smiling and beaming, while he puts out his hand absently towards the other fellow, and gives him an offhanded sholom aleichem. The mishnah tells us though to, "greet every person joyfully," without there being any difference whether or not he already knows the person.

We learn in the mishnah in Ovos (4:1), "Ben Zomah says . . . Who is honorable? Whoever honors [his fellow] creatures." Why does the mishnah use an unusual term, "beriyos, creatures," instead of saying, "whoever honors anoshim, people"?

Ben Zomah wants to teach us that we should honor others because they are HaKodosh Boruch Hu's creatures. He cites the posuk (Shmuel I 2:30), "For I shall honor those who have honor for Me, while those who contempt Me will be shamed." Someone who honors others because they are Hashem's creations, is actually honoring Hashem, therefore, "I will honor him." What then is the difference between a person one knows and a person one doesn't know? They are both Hashem's creatures. This is a point that needs to be well understood.

Being Accepting and Not Desiring Worldliness

Another characteristic of the talmid chochom listed in Derech Eretz is that he is, "oluv, wretched," meaning that if he is disgraced or shamed, he bears it without shaming others. The gaon HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l, related a story that illustrates the great merit of someone who bears shame without shaming others.

The author of Amudei Or, the gaon, Rav Yechiel Michel Heller zt'l, would sign his teshuvos with the word, "he'oluv, the wretched one." Reb Yaakov told the story of how this came about.

Rav Yechiel Michel's maternal grandfather was a wealthy man, who traded in drinks and liquor. When he travelled out of town for business, he left his daughter behind to supervise his shop on her own. Rumors began to circulate about her and when she reached marriageable age, nobody wanted to make a match with her because of these rumors. She grew older without finding a marriage partner. Her father suffered greatly. He finally reached the conclusion that there was no choice but to take an ordinary fellow as a husband for her.

In their town lived a young man whom people called "Aharon shmeiser" because he worked for one of the wagon drivers as a horse whipper. He was, of course, a very simple fellow. The brokenhearted father called his daughter and said to her, "You can see what the situation is. There is no choice for you but to marry Aharon." Having no alternative, she gave her consent.

Her father then went to the wagon driver and despairingly suggested the match. Even though it had been his idea, he said that he still had to think about it. In the end, he agreed and a date was set for the wedding. As she stood under the chuppah, the kallah said, "Ribono Shel Olom, You know the truth -- that all the rumors that circulated about me were simply the result of the wickedness of people who were jealous of my father's wealth, and that I am completely pure. I therefore ask You, Ribono Shel Olom, in the merit of my having agreed to this match, give me righteous sons who will be talmidei chachomim."

She indeed merited four sons who were gedolei Yisroel, and sons-in-law who were talmidei chachomim: Her sons were: Rav Yechiel Michel, rav of Suvalk, Rav Yisroel, rav of Novisletz, Rav Meir, a rav in Vilna and Rav Yehoshua, author of Mo'oz Hados, zt'l. This was why Rav Yechiel Michel signed, "he'oluv"! This is the great reward of someone who bears disgrace.

Another of the characteristics mentioned in Derech Eretz is, "He is humble towards the members of his household," meaning that they do not feel that he places himself over them in a show of pride. In a man's home, his traits are apparent. He should not lord it over his wife, as though she were a maidservant. This is enough to say, for an understanding person.

In conclusion, the beraissa says, "He has no desire for any of the things of this world, because this world is not his." This explains the phrase used by the shepherd who became a nozir, whom we mentioned earlier, "Why do you take pride in a world that is not yours?"

This is the kind of nezirus Chazal were referring to when they said, "Whoever sees a sotoh's disgrace should separate himself from wine" -- "whoever," meaning even the greatest people, as we explained earlier. It is so important for a person to make fences and take protective measures against sinning and in our times, particularly in watching his eyes. May we merit being vigilant and guarding ourselves from all sins and may we merit the complete redemption very soon, omein!

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