"Ki sisteh -- if she goes astray: This teaches that a
person only sins when a spirit of foolishness (shtus)
seizes him" (Maseches Sotah 3).
Chazal relegate sin to the sphere of influence of the
intellect and conclude, therefore, that a person sins
because he has been seized by a spirit of foolishness which
shunted aside his good sense. But do we not say that it is
his evil inclination that overcame him and caused him to
sin? Would it not be more fitting to conclude that: a person
only sins if his evil inclination gets the better of him?
The error in these questions lies in semantics, in the
definition that we attribute to the term shtus --
foolishness. This is not temporary insanity nor stupidity.
Chazal use this term to describe an unnatural growth, like a
strange tumor, a mutation. In this context, we find Chazal
relating to a myrtle that has more than three leaves at each
junction as a hadas shoteh. In what way is it
shoteh? Was it ever of sound mind and lost its
sanity? Rather, this is a myrtle that grew unnaturally; that
is its shtus.
This interpretation has halachic implications. Halachic
authorities through the ages dealt with instances of
divorces and marriages that were contracted between people
who were of unsound mind, and intricate problems were thus
caused concerning the legitimacy of the ensuing
relationships since the marriage and divorce contracts of
people considered shotim, not mentally responsible or
sound, are invalid. Complex, involved deliberations dealt
with the establishment of an accurate determination of what
constituted a shoteh, in other words, what degree of
irresponsibility-for-one's-conduct determines when a
marriage/divorce is valid or not.
Chazal established definite signs to identify the
shoteh: "He sleeps at night, alone, in a cemetery,
rips his clothing and destroys things [of value] given to
him." To be sure, each case raised the ponderous question of
whether to make valid comparisons between these examples and
One question arose concerning a person whose intellect does
not develop according to his chronological age. He thinks
logically, but is not intellectually mature for his stage in
life. A man of forty talking like a clever child of ten is
lacking something. The Torah sages who had to deal with
these questions analyzed the problem as follows: An odom
shoteh is like a hadas shoteh: a person whose
intellect has not developed properly according to his age is
considered a shoteh, a misfit.
We now turn back to the rule of "A person only sins when a
spirit of shtus seizes him." This means that a person
who is born straightforward, as Hashem created him, that is,
normal, does not generally sin! Cut and dried. A man does
not sin unless a ruach shtus seizes him, a whim of
"And they sought devious ways."
In the natural course, in the straightforward nature of a
person's soul, intellect and common sense, he is not prone
to sin. Only in a convoluted course that a person chooses
can he contemplate the possibility of sin.
What is another name for the Torah with its code of 613
commandments? Sefer Hayoshor -- the "Book of the
Straight" (Shmuel II 1). And how are the Ovos, who
kept the Torah and its commandments even before it was
given, referred to? The straight ones, yeshorim.
(Avoda Zora 25). What is the name given to Yaakov
Ovinu, who completed the founding dynasty of the Jewish
people? "And You called his name Yisroel and Yeshurun" (in
korbonos of the morning prayers).
This establishes what we said: straightforwardness and
normality, the starting point of every person, give no
allowance for sin. A person does not [normally, generally]
sin unless he is seized by a spirit of shtus, a
swerving from the beaten path, a mutation, an incongruence
and anomaly, like the mutant and abnormal myrtle.
When the Ramban discusses Odom Horishon in Parshas
Bereishis (2:9), he says, "And it seems best to me [to
say] that Odom naturally did what was right and proper, in
the same manner as the heavens and their hosts carry out the
will of Hashem; they will never veer off orbit, and they do
not do their tasks with love or hatred. Perhaps the Torah
was referring to this idea when it states: `Whereby
Elokim created man straightforward but they sought
out many calculations' (Koheles 7:29)."
R' Yeruchom of Mir zt'l writes: From here we can see
the awesomeness of the trait of yosher, that it
determines deeds naturally, instinctively, as a matter of
course, without contriving.
Chazal tell us in maseches Shabbos (88) of a Tzeduki
who said to Rovo: "What an impetuous people you are, that
you preceded your mouths to your ears" (in saying "We will
do" before "We will hear"). Replied Rovo, "We proceed
completely, wholly, and it is written regarding us, `The
integrity of the upright shall guide them' (Mishlei
11:3), while regarding you, it is said, `but the
perverseness of the faithless shall destroy them.' This
upholds this very principle that the secret of our declared
na'aseh prior to nishma is a direct result of
`the integrity of the upright shall guide them.' "
The trait of straightforwardness and integrity naturally
dictates that one act without prior investigations, to
follow one's correct instinct without questioning. We will
do -- that's that! And if a person will not stand up to the
demands of na'aseh before nishma, it is not
only a default in his degree and level but constitutes a
condition of "the perverseness of the faithless shall
destroy them." If there exists the possibility or even the
mere thought of doing otherwise, it indicates that he is not
straightforward and true. He is sinning in "and they sought
Where is the beginning of the grievous condition of "the
perverseness of the faithless?" In the lack of a decisive
and immutable resolve not to veer from na'aseh
venishma. Unless he negated himself completely, without
the inkling of a counter-thought, he is not straightforward.
He harbors a root that can develop into the "perverseness of
(Daas Torah Parshas Bamidbor)