Parshios Naso & Shavuos
The Sotah In Us All
G-d told Moshe, "Speak to the Children of Israel, and tell them about
when a man's wife deceives him . . ." (Bamidbar 5:11)
Youthfulness can be the biggest trap of all, being the time of the
greatest temptation from the yetzer hara. These have been called
the "lustful" years, and it is truly amazing all the damage that occurs
during these years. People act as if they are under some sort of spell,
sacrificing so much good, and for what? For the satiation of some pleasure
that will be forgotten shortly after, and can only lead to an unstable way
And, how many mitzvos get pushed off during this time? Even if people have
sufficient self-control to avoid the pitfalls at this period of time, they
may still lack the motivation to take advantage of their youthful energy
to do mitzvos that they have pushed off to a much later time in their life.
But, the Talmud teaches:
It was taught, Rebi Shimon ben Elazar said: Perform [tzedakah] while you
have the opportunity (i.e., a poor person to give it to), and while you
can (i.e., have the money to give. Shlomo in his wisdom also
said, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil
days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no desire
in them" (Koheles 12:1).
I hate being late for minyan. Just the idea of being late to pray to G-d
doesn't sit well with me, and practically-speaking, I hate missing
sections or having to play catch-up. The Talmud has praise for the person
who says Pesukei d'Zimra in completion, every day, so I try and do exactly
that, something I rarely can do if I don't start on time.
Nevertheless, I would sleep in until the very last second I could get away
with. Then, I would jump out of bed, get dressed in five minutes, and walk
five minutes more to a minyan, perhaps saying same Karbonos along the way.
At certain times of the year, when the sun rose late enough, the Neitz
minyan would just be ending as I got to shul, and immediately I would feel
a sense of, "Gee, I wish I had dovened Neitz each morning."
Realizing that it was unlikely that I would ever get to that point any
time soon, I would just think to myself, "Perhaps, one day when I'm in my
seventies and eighties, and getting up early is easier for me." I don't
know what I found so attractive about getting up at what seemed to me to
be such an unG-dly hour to do that which most of the Torah world did long
after the sun was already in the sky, but it touched something inside of
The truth is, at one time we all dovened Neitz, before the time of light
bulbs and a business world that is so hectic. The Talmud calls it the
mitzvah min hamuvchar, and an expression that means it is the ideal way of
doing a mitzvah (S.A. 89:1). However, for a variety of reasons it has
become a mitzvah for the few, and not the many, for those whom the time
may be more convenient, or just more spiritual.
I stumbled into the mitzvah myself. A friend of mine had convinced me
about the virtue of dovening Neitz on Rosh Hashanah, of all days. He told
me that the dovening is great, and that you actually have time to do some
learning on such an important day. In addition, I found out that it
allowed me to baby sit so my wife could at least doven Mussaf with a later
My friend was so correct in his assessment that I ended up dovening at
Neitz on Yom Kippur as well. This gave me a three hour break that allowed
me to learn, and even rest a little before Minchah, giving me extra energy
for the end of Yom Kippur, so I could doven with more intention until the
Eventually, I started going to Neitz on Shabbos as well. There was
something very nice about coming home from dovening just as everyone else
was getting up and going to doven. I also enjoyed having Kiddush early
(the cholent tastes the best then, I found), learning some Torah, and
taking a nap, all before the rest of my family came home for the second
But, in spite of this, the idea of dovening Neitz EVERY DAY, seemed a
distant reality for me, even though I was doing it every Shabbos, and on
the High Holidays. "When I'm older and I need less sleep," I told
myself. "Then I'll doven Neitz every day."
I guess G-d read my heart, because the opportunity to make the changeover
that has had such a tremendous impact on my life came in a way I would
never have guessed. The L-rd truly works in interesting ways, and I
suppose it is because we do too.
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days
come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no desire in
them." (Koheles 12:1)
The turning point in this mitzvah for me came once we decided to sell our
house and move. The people who were supposed to pack up the boxes and ship
out our stuff said they would come about 7:30 am, and in order to be
there, I had to doven Neitz.
So, I got up while it was still dark the next morning, and went to shul. I
dovened at Neitz, and I felt good about myself, I returned home only to
find out that the movers still had not come, and it was already 7:30. In
fact, they only came about two hours later; I could have dovened regular
time and still been on time. Oh well.
At the end of the first day, there was still much to pack up since they
arrived so late and took many breaks. So, they planned to come back the
next morning at, you guessed it, 7:30 am. They said they would be punctual
this time, so I had to get up at Neitz once again, the second day in a row.
Again, they did not come back the next morning on time either, and sure
enough, a third day became necessary. Frustrated, I made plans to get up
for Neitz the next morning as well, and prayed that the move would finally
take place that day. By that time, everything was just about done.
Thank G-d, we did move that day, but after having dovened Neitz three days
in a row, all of a sudden I felt as if I had a dilemma; "How can I go back
to a regular time for minyan after dovening three days in a row at Neitz?"
So I didn't, and have since dovened Neitz for many years now. There is
just something very uplifting about having dovened Neitz, learned Torah
for an hour, and all by 8:00 in the morning.
However, all I had to do was take the words of Koheles seriously:
"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days
come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no desire in
them.'" (Koheles 12:1)
Remembering my Creator in the days of my youth while I still enjoyed sleep
earns more reward than doing the mitzvah in the "evil days," when the
resistance to such mitzvos becomes less and less.
That was one explanation of that verse. The Talmud offers another one as
"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days
come"-this refers to the days of old age; and the years draw near of which
you will say, "I have no desire in them"-this refers to the Messianic era,
when there is neither merit nor guilt. (Shabbos 151b)
In other words, in Yemos HaMoshiach, since there will no longer be any
yetzer hara (Succah 52a), there will also not be a chance to do a mitzvah
or a sin. Without a yetzer hara, man will naturally do the will of G-d,
for that is what is natural for man to do.
It's like water running downstream. It's possible that wood and stones can
block the path of the river, making a dam. However, that does not change
the water's desire to flow straight; it just makes it physically
impossible to do so. Break down the dam, and the water will instantly
resume its natural course of the least resistance.
We naturally love G-d and His Torah. However, our own personal desires act
like a spiritual and psychological dam that blocks that love, and it can
even make it feel like hate on some occasions. We see this in everyday
relationships, where two people who love each other can, after a fight,
feel negative feelings that all of a sudden, for the moment, suggest the
possibility of divorce, until they make up again. One apology can smash
through the dam of negative emotions, and love can be felt immediately.
The yetzer hara is a dam. That is why he is called the "sutton" (usually
spelled, "Satan"), because the word means obstructer. Just like a physical
dam, the Sitra Achra (his other name) obstructs our love of G-d by
distracting us with things in life that make us subjective, opening the
door to all kinds of negative emotions that block the positive ones.
In Yemos HaMoshiach, the veil lifts because it disappears altogether, and
the "conspiracy" of life is revealed for what it is. It will be like
waking up from a dream in which you imagined your life was threatened, so
you were forced to live in a constant state of paranoia and mistrust, only
to wake up and find out that you are perfectly safe.
That's the good news. The bad news is, we will remember all the time we
spent chasing things and worrying about things that had no ultimate value,
whims of the moment, though they sure seemed worth dying for at the time.
Just like with respect to old age, the yetzer decreases until it goes poof
and disappears altogether, and only the things that really count, will
The bottom line? Though Neitz is not for everyone, or even necessary at
all times, but we all have our own "neitz," something we know is important
that we are putting off for later, when "we have more time." The Talmud is
saying, "Don't! Do it during your "youth," while you still have your
yetzer hara and desires to do less meaningful things. That is when you
truly earn your reward in the World-to-Come.
May my lord's soul be bound up in the bond of life with G-d, your G-d.
(I Shmuel 25:29)
This is what Avigayil told Dovid HaMelech before parting, but in truth it
is what all of us are striving to achieve. In a general sense, we are
supposed to be working on elevating the entire physical world to the level
of Kodesh l'Hashem (holy to G-d). The latest tally does not show enough
success in this area, but that does not mean that individuals cannot
accomplish this for themselves, as the Talmud continues and says:
Our Rabbis taught: "And the dust returns to the earth as it was
originally, and the spirit returns to G-d who gave it" (Koheles 12:7);
give it back to Him as He gave it to you: in purity [He gave it to you],
so must you [return it] in purity. This can be compared to a human king
who distributed royal clothing to his servants. The wise among them folded
it up and stored it away in a chest, whereas the fools among them worked
in them. After a time, the king requested his garments back, and the wise
among them returned them to him immaculate; the fools among them returned
them soiled. The king was pleased with the wise but angry with the fools.
Regarding the wise he said, "Let my robes be placed in my treasury and
they can go home in peace," while with respect to the fools he said, "Let
my robes be given to the cleaner, and let them be put in prison." So too
is it with respect to The Holy One, Blessed is He.
Concerning the bodies of the righteous He says, "He will come in peace;
they will rest on their resting places-he who walks in his integrity"
(Yeshayahu 57:2), while concerning their souls He says, "May my lord's
soul be bound up in the bond of life with G-d, your G-d" (I Shmuel 25:29).
However, concerning the bodies of the evil He says, "There is no peace for
the wicked, said G-d" (Yeshayahu 48:22), while concerning their souls He
says, "and may He hurl away the soul of your enemies as one shoots a stone
from a slingshot" (I Shmuel 25:29). (Shabbos 152b)
Indeed, we pray in the morning upon waking up:
G-d, the soul that you have given to me is pure. You created it, You
formed it, You put it into me, and You protect it within me. And, You will
take it from me in the future, and return it to me at a future time . . .
Thus, this is the challenge of everyday life. We are not here to try and
make a dirty soul clean, but to keep a clean soul from getting dirty. The
yetzer hara keeps trying to get us to walk through spiritual mud puddles
all the time, convincing us that this is where the fun is, and that there
will be plenty of time to clean ourselves off afterward.
But how many people leave this world with their royal garments intact?
Like the Sotah in this week's parshah, we lose it, in one way or another.
In her most elemental form, she is merely the symbol of all mankind
selling off future reward for immediate physical gratification. "She"
balks at the following:
It was taught, Rebi Eliezer said, "The souls of the righteous are hidden
under the Throne of Glory, as it says, "May my lord's soul be bound up in
the bond of life with G-d, your G-d." But those of the evil continue to be
muzzled, while one angel stands at one end of the world and a second
stands at the other end, and they sling their souls to each other, as it
says, "and may He hurl away the soul of your enemies as one shoots a stone
from a slingshot." (Ibid.)
However, we know from Rosh Hashanah that there are more than these two
extremes, the righteous on the far right and the evil on the far left.
There is also what we call beinonim (intermediates or those in between)
and the Talmud addresses that issue as well:
Rabbah asked Rav Nachman: "What about those who are intermediate?"
"Had I died I could not have told you this," he replied. Shmuel
said: "Both these and those (i.e., the evil and the intermediates) are
delivered to Dumah; these enjoy rest, whereas the others have no rest.
The question is, do we know who we are? We may think less of ourselves
than Heaven does, or worse, think more of ourselves than Heaven does. And,
we may never know the truth until the Day of Judgment, so therefore, we
must make our spiritual best out of every moment while we have one, always
asking ourselves before indulging in the physical world, "at what
After he makes her drink the water, if she was defiled and acted
deceitfully against her husband, the water that causes the curse will
enter into her and be-come bitter . . . (Bamidbar 5:27)
While our brothers celebrate the second day of Shavuos this Shabbos, for
us in Eretz Yisroel, Shavuos 5766 has come and gone, which means Pesach
has finally come to an end. For, as we have said before, the entire period
of Pesach is through Shavuos and is like one long holiday, with Sefiras
HaOmer connecting the two Yom Tovim as a Chol HaMoed does the seventh day
of Pesach to the first day of the holiday.
The Geulah Shlaimah (the Final Redemption), whenever it finally comes,
will begin on Pesach and end on Shavuos. That is what tradition teaches
us. But, it is hard to imagine that of all the three major holidays,
Shavuos is the shortest and is not connected to any specific mitzvah.
However, this is because redemption is something that we create. It is the
automatic end to a continuous process of what the Vilna Gaon referred to
as "Sheviras HaMiddos," the breaking of (bad) character traits. It is our
bad middos that block the redeeming light of G-d from entering us, the
Jewish people, and therefore the world as well. Thus, the entire focus of
the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuos is middos, the correct ones.
The Talmud says that a person does not sin until a spirit of insanity
enters him (Sotah 3a). We learn this from a play on the Hebrew word for
insanity (shtus), which is very similar to the word "sotah" from this
week's parshah. After all, who in their right mind would sacrifice so much
for so little, giving in to the drives of the body while ignoring the
pleas of the soul? That would be insane, even if only temporary.
There is no greater exile than a confused mind, confused to the extent
that the person's take on life is totally inconsistent with the true
reality of life, and yet that person hasn't a clue that he or she is
missing the entire point. The Sotah was just an extreme example of this,
but as those people who witnessed the process of getting to the truth
about her shook their heads, they had to ask the question, "Am I like this
on any level? I mean, I would never stoop to that type of disloyalty . . .
but do I stoop to a lesser level?"
We'd be surprised to hear the answer, and to the extent that we deny it,
to the extent that we simply live with the Sotah in ourselves is to the
extent that we remain in exile.
Shavuos, perhaps, has come and gone. However, its association with
Kabbalos HaTorah is like drinking Mei Sotah, the special drink that was
prepared by dissolving the Name of G-d into it, to clarify the status of
the suspected adulteress. The kedushah of the day itself is supposed to
help clarify how loyal we are to Torah, and therefore, how free we are as
In this respect, the Geulah comes on Shavuos, as it does every year. As to
whether or not it is a "shlaimah," all depends upon how many of us first
achieve it on an individual level by increasing our loyalty to G-d and to
His Torah, beyond any shadow of a doubt (Amalek). Even if it takes until
Succos to see the actual results, its beginning will have begun on Pesach
and its ending will be on Shavuos, as far as setting the final stage in
Have a great Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.