“Speak to the Jewish nation and say, ‘If a man or woman makes a vow to separate as a nazir to Hashem….” – Bamidbar 6:2
If a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he is to bring witnesses and warn her not to go into private quarters with the man in question. If she violates that warning, he is to bring her to the kohen, who will give her the “bitter waters” to drink. If she was falsely accused and was innocent, she will be blessed with children. If she was guilty, she will die a gruesome death.
This is the parshah of the sotah. Immediately after discussing these laws, the Torah details the laws of the nazir and his abstinence from wine. Since these two sections are placed next to each other, the Torah is teaching us there is a connection between them.
Rashi is bothered by the connection. What does an unfaithful wife have to do with a man separating himself from worldly pleasure? Rashi explains that since wine brings a person to immorality, the man who witnessed a woman become a sotah should refrain from drinking wine. The Torah is teaching us that if a man sees a woman fall to such a low level, he should recognize the danger of intoxication and become a nazir to abstain from drinking.
This Rashi is difficult to understand. Either wine is dangerous or it’s not. If wine brings a man to sin, then it should be avoided, regardless of whether he saw the sotah in her debacle. And if wine isn’t inherently dangerous, then why should he make this vow just because he saw her fall?
The answer to this question is based on understanding how Hashem runs the world.
The story is told that when the Chofetz Chaim learned about a major earthquake in Japan, he began crying. Someone asked him, “Why is the Rebbe so troubled?” He answered, “Chazal tell us: ‘Calamities only come to the world because of Yisrael.’ We were meant to hear that message.”
The Chofetz Chaim was making a significant point. For reasons that only Hashem knows, a vast number of people were supposed to die that day. There are, however, many ways their deaths could have come about. There are many messengers in Hashem’s employ and many ways for Him to fulfill his decree. The reason those people died in such a violent manner was so that we would hear about it and learn from it.
Learning to Listen
This seems to be the answer to the Rashi. Nothing in this world just happens. There are no random events. Nothing is by chance. Hashem speaks to us; there are, however, many vehicles and media He uses to communicate with us. Sometimes it’s simply by arranging that someone should be in a particular place at a particular time. The fact that this man was witness to the sotah’s disgrace wasn’t by accident. He was supposed to see that event. Hashem was saying to him, “Look how far things can go. Wine itself is a tool; it can be used for good or for bad. Other people may not have to be concerned, but for you, this is dangerous. See what happened to that woman? Take it to heart – it could happen to you.”
A wise man listens to his messages and takes corrective action. In this case, the correct response is for that man to abstain from drinking by becoming a nazir. By putting these two unrelated concepts next to each other, the Torah is teaching us we should be aware of the way that Hashem speaks to us through events of our lives.
This concept carries a powerful lesson. There is a Master of this World who orchestrates every event and every occurrence. And He speaks to us. The reason we have difficulty hearing the message is because He remains hidden behind the veil of natural occurrences. Our job is to cut through the fog, to see behind the smoke and mirrors, to recognize Who orchestrates these events, and to understand what He is saying to us. When things occur and we happen to be present, there is a reason. We were meant to hear it and learn from it. Whatever we experience, whether personally or communally, has a message for us, and we are supposed to be open to it and learn from it.