Finding Balance in Life

May 29, 2014
BY Daniel Goldman
Parshat Naso

At first Parshat Naso seems nothing more than a disassociated combination of random laws. The adulterous sotah must drink before the Beit Din, while the spiritual nazir must refrain from shaving and drinking wine.

The laws of the sotah, an accused adulterer, and the laws for a nazir, one who seeks to live an ascetic lifestyle, are found right next to each other, yet do not correlate at all. Why then, does the Torah place them next to each other?

Rashi claims that this placement “teaches you that whoever sees a sotah in her disgrace will make a Nazirite vow to abstain from wine, because wine leads a person to adultery.” This explanation would suffice if not for a miniscule detail within the Nazirite laws: According to the text, the nazir, upon completing his vow, must provide a sin offering for refusing to drink the wine that the Torah advised him to avoid. Although the nazir seeks spiritual elevation, the Torah labels him a sinner for abstaining from enjoying the pleasures of life. Polar opposites, the sotah and nazir do not relate to one another; so why does the Torah discuss them together?

The Sotah lives in the moment, enjoying God’s pleasures to excess; while the nazir epitomizes the height of spirituality, isolating himself from materialistic temptations. According to the text, both have sinned. For the sotah, having committed adultery, halacha automatically brands her a “sinner,” but what about the nazir? He centers his life around service to Hashem but still must offer a sacrifice for “sinning.” Why? The text accuses him of distancing himself from pleasure and seems to penalize the nazir for exercising caution to avoid succumbing to adultery, as Rashi elucidates.

God put us on this world to benefit from life’s pleasures. Although people should appreciate Hashem’s gifts, they must recognize His power and awe. However, people cannot base their lives on only pleasing Hashem, disregarding life’s pleasures entirely.

A story about a blind woman who seeks a husband demonstrates this quality. After countless failed dates with various suitors, she falls in love. She and this man eventually wed, and he treats her like a goddess, viewing her blindness as a challenge to overcome rather than as a dilapidating ailment. But the woman soon feels like a burden and seeks a cure to her blindness. The couple finally hears of a treatment. Waiting for the doctor, the husband says to his dear wife, “You should know that there are a lot of surprising things you will see in this world, one of which will be that I am blind.” Hours pass, and the operation is successful. But soon after, the woman feels she has missed out on life’s adventures. She wants to see the world but feels her husband thwarts her chances of advancing in life, so she divorces him. However, upon leaving to explore the world, she sees a note from her ex-husband that reads “I never meant to become such a burden. I just wanted you to see the world as I did. Please treat my eyes well.”

The husband represents God. Without Him, we would not be able to enjoy life. We cannot just leave Him out of the equation like the sotah does, only living to explore the world’s pleasures. However, we cannot just be like the nazir who abstains the world’s pleasures. Life is about finding balance. The Rambam said, “[Aim] for a balanced course, avowing extremes.” The sotah sinned because she enjoyed life too much, while the nazir sinned for not enjoying it enough. The two portions are placed together to demonstrate the two extremes of living life, encouraging us to find a balance within ourselves.

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