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.