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
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
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]
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
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
`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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!