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The Animal Within

R Pesach Siegel

Parshat Naso

May 30, 2014

 Parshas Naso

The Animal Within


The gemara poses the question – For what reason is the portion dealing with the isha sota placed next to the one of the Nazir? What possible connection exists between them? The gemara answers – In order to instruct us, to guide us – All those who witness the disgrace of the sotah woman, as a result thereof, should distance themselves from wine by accepting the vow of a Nazir.[1]




One might consider that a vow of nezirus is in order if one saw the sotah woman at the height of her enjoyment, blissfully ignorant of the consequences which are to come upon her. Then one might fear falling prey to the passions of the yetzer hara.


But why is the disgrace of the sotah a cause for abstinence from wine?


And they disgraced her. Her hair was revealed, her clothes were torn. Her shame was revealed for all the women to see. She was made to roll in the dirt.[2] Even her korban mincha was different. It was from coarse barley flour, rather than wheat. Barley is animal fodder. Her korban attested to her animalistic impulses.[3] There was no levona spice added. The levona spice was reminiscent of the fine aroma of our matriarchs. She has strayed from their fine attributes. No oil was added. Oil represents light. She acted in the dark. She was dragged from one corner of the azara to the other carrying the heavy weight of her korban, in order to tire her out.


In the end, she dies in a horrific fashion. No one could envy such a life, no matter how sweet it seemed in the moment of desire.


Why should one undertake nezirus after witnessing this?


One might attempt to answer, that the power of wine is so strong, that it overcomes all inhibitions, and one must take care, despite seeing the horrors that befall the sotah.


This answer is insufficient.


There are other, less drastic ways of refraining from wine. One need not become a Nazir. A simple vow to abstain from wine would suffice. One need not take upon himself all the additional restrictions of the Nazir (even grapes are forbidden, along with coming in contact with a dead body, and shearing one’s hair).


Yet, from the words of the gemara it is clear that it is not enough to forbid one’s self in the drinking of wine. One must undertake a total transformation.


One must become a Nazir.



The medrash tells of a chassid. His father drank to excess and would fall down in the market. The youth would come and cast upon him sticks and stones. They would call upon him in disgrace, “Come and see the drunk”. The son almost died from embarrassment. He beseeched his father and told him, “I will bring you from every wine in the country, just don’t go out to drink. You are making a disgrace of you and me.” The father finally agreed. Each and every day he would bring his father food and drink. He would put him to sleep.

One time, it was a rainy day. The chassid went through the market place on the way to shul. He saw a drunk laying in the market, rain water gushing over him. The youth were casting sticks and stones upon him and throwing all sorts of debris upon his face and into his mouth.

The chassid brought his father to see the sorry state of the drunk. His elderly father, upon seeing the drunk, asked him, “In which bar did you drink this wine?”

The son told his father incredulously, “It was for this reason that I brought you to see the disgrace of the drunk. This is what you look like when you drink.”

The father told his son, “In my life, I have no other enjoyment and Gan Eden other than this,”

The words of his father caused his heart to depart from him with a broken heart.[4]

Rav Aharon Brafman[5] once referred to this medrash in a mussar discussion group of ba'alei battim. Several days later, one of the members, a doctor who had been on duty in an emergency room, told him, "You'll never believe this: I saw that Chazal live with my own eyes. They brought in a fellow who overdosed on drugs, and one of the other patients in the emergency room went over and asked him, 'Hey, man, where did you get such good stuff?'"

My rebbe, Rav Mordechai Gifter, z”l, explained, we have two parts to us. The higher self, the human part, filled with lofty aspirations and drives. This is the part of us that “makes sense”. We also possess a nefesh habehamis, an animalistic nature, which drags us down, and drives us to feed our animalistic passions.


The father, when faced by the sight of a human being lying in an animalistic state reacts in two totally contrary manners. His intellect is assaulted by the sight of man descending so low. But beware; his animalistic nature has been exposed to a lowly state, heretofore unimaginable, a state of oblivion, and removal from humanity.


 And it wants it.




The gemara tells us, the sotah committed the act of a beheima (animal) therefore her korban is comprised of animal fodder (barley). In the Beis HaMikdash, she is reduced to her true proportions, to that of an animal. An animal does not mate for a higher purpose. Its union is not blessed by the presence of the Shechinah. For an animal, it is a pure physical act of passion. This is what she did and this is what she is.


One who is exposed to the animalistic side of the person is in danger. He is in danger of discovering within himself this potential of the pursuit of self gratification for no other purpose than self-serving pleasure.


The disgrace of a sotah has an attraction. It is the reduction of a human being to the state of an animal. An animal seeks pleasure. An animal has no responsibilities. An animal has no standards. There is nothing to inhibit its drive for passion. The disgrace actually adds to the attraction. The more "animal" the better.


Wine removes the inhibitions, the restrictions that the mind places upon the physical body. Therefore, one must be very careful when imbibing wine. But abstinence from wine is not enough.


A Nazir is much more than one who abstains from wine. A Nazir lifts himself above the mundane like a Kohen or a Levite. He exists on a higher plane for thirty days. The word “Nazir” is related to the word “nezer”, which means crown. A Nazir is a glimpse into the true greatness that each and everyone us is capable of. We are royalty, and when we are cognizant of the royal blood running through our veins, we would never stoop to animalistic behavior. It is simply beneath us.



[1] Meseches Sotah, daf 2a

[2] Rashi, perek 5, posuk 18

[3] Rashi, perek 5, posuk 15

[4] Medrash Tanchuma, Parshas Shemini, perek 11

[5] Menahel of Yeshivas Derech Ayson in Far Rockaway

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