Sunday, May 23, 2010

Parshat Naso: extreme reactions and normal behavior

Extreme Reactions and Normal Behavior

Parshat Naso

In this weeks parsha we find the portion regarding the sotah woman, and following in close proximity is the portion regarding someone who accepts upon himself the oath of the nazir.

Rashi brings the famous statement regarding why the portion of the nazir follows immediately after that of the sotah saying that someone who sees the woman in her shameful state of the progress of dealing with a sotah will swear himself off of wine - as a reaction in order to not be subject to a similar degrading fate.

It seems clear to me that this reaction is just that - a reaction to a tragic event. An extreme reaction at that, though called for under the circumstances. The only reason he became a nazir, the only reason he swore off the wine, is because of what he saw happen to the woman who teetered down the road of being a sotah, having begun it with an innocent sip at the shabbos table or in a kiddush in shul, a flirtatious nod of the head and flip of the hair.

Being that this is a mandated reaction, one can safely assume that normally we should not be swearing off the wine. We are meant to be drinking and enjoying wine (in moderation of course).

Why? If we know that wine has such a dangerous potential, if it can lead to the tragic demise of what was probably an innocent, naive woman, perhaps we should be rejecting wine completely! Why start with wine when it can lead to such a disastrous end? Ban the whole thing - all alcoholic drinks should be off limits. Yet we know that wine is something that we completely embrace. We use it to sanctify all our holiest days, we are told to drink it on holidays , either as a symbol of or as a catalyst to, a sense of joy and happiness.

Why? So it has some good and importance, but it has such a disastrous potential - we should reject it outright?!

Clearly we see that the correct way is not one of rejection. Just because something has the potential for bad, and to be used for bad, is not a reason to reject it. We are told to use wine and to enjoy it, despite its potential. We are meant to enjoy the pleasures of the world, and use them to sanctify the world and Gods name, and even if just for enjoying the physical bounty of our world. The fact that such a bad potential also exists is a reason to work harder to make sure you use and enjoy it properly and don't end up with the fate of the wrong end of the potential, but it is not a reason to reject it outright.

Sure, there is room for the sometimes necessary extreme reaction of rejecting it because of its negative potential, but that is only on the rare occassion, for the person who saw the "sotah b'kilkulah" and needs to somehow react in order to properly cope with what he saw - not for the average person. And even for the person who saw the sotah and needed to reject the wine, it was only a short term rejection.

The same is true with all the pleasures of the world. They might have the potential for bad, but that is not a reason to reject them. That is a reason to embrace them and use them carefully, for good.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

B'Shalach: Drying up the Sea

Bshalach: Shedding light on the Splitting of the Sea

In Sefer Yehoshua in 2:10, Rahav is talking to the two slaves Yehoshua had sent. She is describing how they know the Jews are going to take over the land. Rahav says "for we heard that Hashem dried out the waters of the Yam Suf before you, when you left Egypt".

I wonder - does this statement by Rahav shed any light on to how the actual splitting of the sea went down? Can we rely on her statement to understand the splitting of the sea? Perhaps she heard wrong? Perhaps the news media outlets got the details inaccurately? Or maybe this is how it went down - rather than moving the waters to the side, the water in the middle (on the created paths) dried up leaving a path...

What do you think?

B'Shalach: Money makes you insane

Parshat B'Shalach: Money makes you insane


Pharoah had had enough of the Jews and the trouble they brought with them. He finally agreed to let them go.

Now that they are gone, and he sees they are not coming back, Pharoah decides to chase them down. Not because he wants them back - he doesn't (according to Rashi in 14:5, at least) - all he wants is the valuables they took with them.

In verses 6 and 7, which is still before Hashem hardens his heart, he decides to chase them down. The pasuk says he gathered all the chariots in the country, including 600 top level chariots, and filled them with his officers.

I don't know if this was the whole Egyptian army, or just part of it. It is at least a significant portion. Add to this the fact they they were still licking their wounds form the plagues - a lot of people died in the Plague of the Firstborn, they might be weak from lack of food as crops had been destroyed and cattle had died in plagues. They are in a pretty prone condition and weakened state.

Yet Pharoah decides to go with a strong force to chase down a bunch of slaves for some jewels. I would even dare say that this was not a great amount, relative to what Egypt still had - we see by the splitting of the sea that they had brought tremendous amounts of valuables with them.

Egypt is in an extremely weakened state, and very prone. They had been the leaders of the world. there must have been other countries chomping at the bit waiting for this opportunity to attack and take over control of such a powerful country.

yet Pharoah leaves Egypt largely unprotected and vulnerable. Just to chase down some slaves to retrieve some money? It doesn't make sense.

I would suggest that this shows us how money can drive a person insane and make him think irrationally.