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4 Sivan 5759, May 19 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
A Shmuess for Parshas Nosso
By HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l

The Nozir From the South

`Speak to bnei Yisroel . . . ish oh ishoh ki yafli, a man or woman who separates [themselves -- wondrously -- from worldly pleasures], to make a vow to become a nozir, to be set apart for Hashem's sake' (Bamidbor 6:2). [The word, yafli, who separates, is understood by the commentators both in the sense of the nozir's physical separation from wine, and the separation between his conduct and that of a majority of people, who are slaves to their desires, hence the nozir is considered to have done something distinctive and wondrous.]

The gemora (Nedorim 9) relates the following story: Shimon Hatzaddik said, "Never in my life did I eat from the oshom offering of a nozir who had become tomei, [which necessitates his bringing special korbonos and shaving off all his hair] except on one occasion. A certain man [i.e. a nozir who had become tomei] once came from the South. I saw that he had beautiful eyes and a becoming appearance and that his hair was arranged in curling tresses.

"I said to him, `My son, why do you want to destroy your beautiful hair?'

"He said to me, `I was a working as a shepherd for father in my town and I went to fill up with water from the well. I saw my reflection [in the water] and my yetzer hora pounced upon me and wanted to drive me from the world. `Wicked one!' I said to him, `Why do you take pride in a world that is not yours, in one who is destined to be dust, decay and worms [i.e. the physical appearance]? I promise to shave you, for the sake of Heaven!'

"I got up straight away and kissed him on his head and said to him, `My son, may there be many in Yisroel who vow to be nezirim for reasons like yours. The posuk was referring to someone like you when it says, `a man . . . who separates, to make a vow to become a nozir, to be set apart for Hashem's sake'."

The gemora then continues: Rabbi Mana asked, "Why did Shimon Hatzaddik only refrain from eating the oshom offering of a nozir who had become tomei because it is brought on account of a sin [namely, insufficient care on the part of the nozir to avoid tumah]? All other oshom offerings are also brought because of sins!"

Rabbi Yonah answered . . . "They make the vow to be nezirim when they are disturbed, then when they become tomei and the days for which they have to keep to [the strictures of] being a nozir are increased [for after becoming tohor, the nozir must start to count the period of his nezirus from the beginning again], they regret [ever having entered] the [state of] nezirus, and [this lack of intention, which weakens the entire basis of their assumption of nezirus, upon which the validity of their korbonos depends, means that] they are thus suspect of offering up mundane animals in the azarah [instead of properly sanctified korbonos, a serious aveiro]."

Rashi explains the gemora's words, "when they are disturbed," to mean "they are afraid, and they undertake the vow [of nezirus] when they are angry, not doing so for the sake of Heaven, but out of anger." [Thus when the difficulty of fulfilling their vows increases as a result of having become tomei, they regret the whole undertaking, undermining the validity of their vow.]

Tosafos and the Rosh (in his commentary on the gemora,) give a different explanation of the words, "when they are disturbed: they are dismayed at their punishment and they attribute it to their sins [i.e. they are conscience stricken] and have pangs of teshuvah and make a vow [of nezirus.]"

What is most puzzling about this explanation is that if they are motivated by teshuvah to become nezirim, they are actually righteous, so why did Shimon Hatzaddik have doubts about the validity of their nezirus and their korbonos?

Holiness in Sight

The matter can be explained in the light of another gemora (Zevochim 118), which says that during the period when the Mishkon was located in Shilo, before the Beis Hamikdosh was built, the same halocho that applied to Yerushalayim when the mikdash stood there, namely, that it was permitted to eat those korbonos that had a lower degree of sanctity (kodshim kalim) anywhere that Yerushalayim was visible from, applied in Shilo.

One of the reasons given by the gemora for equating Shilo with Yerushalayim is the fact that the posuk says (Bereishis 49:22), "Ben poros Yosef, Yosef is a son who finds favor, ben poros alei oyin, a son who finds favor in the eyes of those who see him . . . " Rashi explains that the word poros can also be understood in the sense of expansion and multiplying, as in piryoh verivyoh. It is in this sense that the gemora takes this posuk, understanding it to mean that Shilo, which was situated in the portion of the tribe of Yosef, expanded and increased its holiness (becoming like Yerushalayim in that whoever could see it could eat kodshim kalim where he was).

The gemora goes on to say that the words, alei oyin are to be understood as giving the reason for this expansion of the holiness of Shilo: "The eye that did not want to benefit from that which was not its own -- Rashi explains that this refers to Yosef, who did not want to gaze upon Potiphar or the Egyptian daughters -- shall merit that eating (kodshim kalim) in any place that can see."

The gemora is telling us that Yosef Hatzaddik invested his portion in Eretz Yisroel for all subsequent generations, with holiness that is equal to that of Yerushalayim. (This also happens to be the explanation of the posuk (Tehillim 97:11), "Light is sown for the tzaddik, and for the upright of heart, joy." Through the holiness which the tzaddik sows, he bequeaths an upright heart and joy to all his subsequent generations!)

But there is something strange in the words used by this gemora. Why does the gemora refer to Yosef Hatzaddik's eye as "the eye that did not want to benefit from that which was not its own," instead of "the eye that did not want to benefit from what was forbidden"?

The words "that which was not its own" actually contain a great lesson. The Ibn Ezra asks a famous question on the Torah's commandment not to covet one's friend's house. How is it possible to command a person not to covet, when this is a feeling which he experiences in his heart, which it is not in his power to control? The heart does desire things, and how can the Torah command a person's heart not to covet?

A World That is Not Mine

The Ibn Ezra answers his question with the parable of a common villager who saw a princess. Will it enter the villager's head to try to marry the princess? Of course not! The villager knows very well that there is no way that a coarse fellow like himself could marry a princess and he doesn't even contemplate it. The Torah warns a person, "Don't covet your friend's house," as if to say, "your friend's house is not yours and it doesn't belong to your world. It is his and has nothing to do with you, so don't covet it."

The Beis Halevi sharpens this explanation by comparing it to a man standing on a frozen river who sees something on the other side which he desires. He begins crossing the ice in order to reach it when suddenly, the ice gives way beneath him and he is about to plunge into the freezing water. At that moment, he completely forgets his desire; all he can think of is how to avoid drowning in the river. If a person is truly afraid of transgressing an aveiro and of being liable for the punishment which it entails, and if he fears Hashem, who commanded him not to do it, then that fear will automatically prevent him from coveting what belongs to someone else. The Torah thus warns; "Don't covet -- be afraid of an aveiro!"

In the light of the Ibn Ezra's explanation, the meaning of the words of the gemora in Zevochim -- "the eye that did not want to benefit from that which was not its own" -- now becomes apparent. For Yosef Hatzaddik to gaze upon the Egyptian daughters for gratification would be for him to benefit from a world that was not his. In the same way that he understood that in forbidding something, the Torah places it as far out of our reach as if it belongs to a different world, he also realized that the pleasures of this world were also not a part of the real [spiritual] world that was truly his own, and that he had no genuine connection to them. By conducting himself in accordance with this knowledge, Yosef Hatzaddik invested Mishkan Shilo with such holiness that the Torah permitted kodshim kalim to be eaten in any place where Shilo was visible.

With this, we can go back to explain why Shimon Hatzaddik made only one exception -- in the case of the nozir from the south -- to his practice of not eating from the korbon of a nozir who had become tomei. This nozir told him that he had seen his reflection in the waters of the well and that his yetzer hora had pounced upon him. Hadn't the nozir ever seen his own reflection before? Was he unaware until then that he had a becoming appearance?

Perhaps, but less us consider which words the nozir used when remonstrating with his yetzer hora? Not "Wicked one! Why do you want to make me stumble into something forbidden!?" but " . . . Why do you take pride in a world that is not yours!" In other words, the nozir told himself, "the pleasures of this world and pride in purely physical things are not yours at all. You have as little genuine connection with them as you would if they were on another world," just as Yosef Hatzaddik did.

The Wondrous Individual

This is why Shimon Hatzaddik stood up and kissed the nozir from the south upon his head, blessing him that there should be many more nezirim like him, who had done something genuinely wonderful, as the posuk says, "a man who does something wondrous . . . " implying that there is something wonderful and out of the ordinary in becoming a nozir.

(Incidentally, the Maharsho points out that the nozir's origin, "from the south" is mentioned in order to allude to the fact that he was a talmid chochom. "Whoever wants to become wise should direct himself southwards," and this was why he merited attaining such a high level of the holiness of nezirus.)

When all is said and done though, what is so wonderful about separating oneself from wine for thirty days? The answer lies in the words of the Ibn Ezra on this posuk, who writes that all of mankind are slaves of their desires and the wonder lies in the nozir's breaking the habit that is common to all men, [willingly restricting himself and forgoing the freedom of partaking of wine according to his desires].

This nozir, who had come from the south, revealed that in his innermost heart, he considered all the pleasures of the world as belonging to a world that was not his. This was why Shimon Hatzaddik was so impressed with him, for, as the gemora quoted earlier explains, this was not common even among other nezirim.

Although the other nezirim, who made vows of nezirus either in anger [according to Rashi's explanation] or in remorse [like the Rosh and Tosafos] certainly filled their lives with good and worthy things, Shimon Hatzaddik saw that they nevertheless felt that this world was their own. Though they did regret their sins and repent, and they even undertook nezirus, if they became tomei in the middle, they had misgivings about the entire nezirus [which would not have happened had their original vow been prompted by the realization that all earthly pleasures were actually foreign to them]. This is why Shimon Hatzaddik did not eat from any korbon oshom of a nozir tomei save one.

Bearing this in mind, we can appreciate how careful we must be about avoiding forbidden sights, especially during the summer months -- may Hashem save us! [We can break the attraction which the yetzer hora exerts towards such things by instilling within ourselves the realization that all such things actually belong to a world that is not ours, a world to which we have no true connection.]

I will tell you a story about the gaon HaRav Eliyohu Lopian zt'l, which took place while he was mashgiach in Yeshivas Knesses Chizikyohu in Kfar Chassidim. HaRav Lopian was approached by a bochur for permission to travel to a wedding. Reb Elya asked the bochur whether the company there would be mixed and the bochur answered, "My parents and I will be sitting at our own table and I don't care if there will be mixed company," R'l!

Reb Elya averted his gaze from the bochur and said, "As far as I myself am concerned, I have already reached my eighties and [moreover] I can't see out of one eye . . . and still, when I go out into the street, I am afraid of transgressing the command, "Do not stray after your . . . eyes"! And you . . . a young man, say "I don't care" . . . !

Reb Elya then walked away from the bochur, snubbing him.

Avoid the Conflict Altogether!

Dovid Hamelech said, "He does not desire the might of the horse, nor does He want the thighs of the man," (Tehillim 147:10). What does this mean? What is it about "the horse's might" and "the man's thighs" that Hashem does not want? The posuk is speaking about ways of overcoming the yetzer hora, using the parable of a horse and its rider. When a horse is trained to carry a man onto the battlefield, and stay calm, not throwing him off in fright, it learns that if it bucks, the rider straddles it tightly with his thighs to maintain his grip, digging his spurs into it as a sign to calm down and stay under his control.

This practice has its counterpart in the spiritual battle against the yetzer hora but the posuk tells us that it is not desirable. The basis of success in spiritual endeavors and in avoiding sin is to distance oneself from trials, through the knowledge that all worldly pleasures belong to "a world that is not our own." There are those who think that they can indulge themselves and still stand up to any trials which the yetzer hora puts in their way, avoiding any actual aveiros.

It is to such people that Dovid Hamelech is referring to here. Hashem does not want "the horse's might" -- the brute force of battling the yetzer -- or "the man's thighs" - - when he holds on for dear life and digs in, so as to remain in control. Hashem doesn't desire the heroism of standing up to a trial when it could have been avoided altogether.

"Hashem wants those who fear Him . . . " (posuk 11) . . . those who are afraid of aveiros, who run away from them, fulfilling Chazal's admonition (Ovos) "And flee from an aveiro!"

I will relate a story that I heard from Reb Chaikel Miletzky zt'l, which contains a message that relates to what we have just been discussing.

When Reb Chaikel was a fifteen year old bochur, he was learning in Stutchin. It was during the First World War and most of the bnei hayeshiva had fled east, deep into Russia, while Reb Chaikel had remained in Stutchin. On erev Yom Kippur, a Jewish soldier approached Reb Chaikel and whispered to him that he needed a favor but that the matter had to be kept in utter secrecy. "I, and a number of other Jewish soldiers, are currently stationed near the town. We have heard from the captain of our brigade that tomorrow, on Yom Kippur, at seven o'clock, we will be leaving to go and fight elsewhere. Of course, my friends and I would like to escape from the army and we want to run away on Yom Kippur night and spend the night in Stutchin. Naturally, we can't escape wearing our army uniforms, so I would like to ask you to obtain suits and hats for us to change into and also to find us a place in which to hide overnight, until the brigade has left town, by which time we will be safe."

Reb Chaikel agreed to help and he managed to collect enough suits from townsfolk. He also found a hiding place, in the ezras noshim of the town's Beis Haknesses Halevoyas Hameis. This beis knesses was situated inside the town's Jewish burial ground and was used for eulogizing the deceased, which meant that most of the time nobody entered it. Reb Chaikel cleaned the ezras noshim from the thick dust that had settled there and prepared it for the visitors. He finished his work before Yom Kippur began. The soldiers arrived, minus one of their number whose family lived in Stutchin and who had therefore gone to his parents' home. The soldiers asked Reb Chaikel to spend the night in the beis haknesses with them, for they were afraid to stay there by themselves.

During the night, the sound of crying was heard coming from the town. The soldier who had gone to hide in the cellar at his parents' home had been caught by the Russian soldiers and had been sentenced to death for deserting. When Reb Chaikel heard what had happened he grew very frightened. What had he let the townspeople in for? Wouldn't the other soldiers he had hidden also be found? And what would the Russian soldiers do to the people of Stutchin? They might lay the entire community waste.

He went upstairs to tell the soldiers and they were also very afraid. They began to discuss whether they should try to make a run for it right away or not. Reb Chaikel told them not to give up hope of Hashem's rescuing them, even from such a dangerous position. What they did have to do something about right away was their army uniforms, which were still with them. If they themselves were found, they could masquerade and invent some alibi to explain their whereabouts but the uniforms would give them away immediately. Reb Chaikel had an idea as to what they could do with them. A number of Stutchin residents had already dug graves for themselves, a practice which acts as an assurance of longevity. He decided to throw the uniforms into the open graves! Reb Chaikel made several trips out to the graveyard, each time taking another uniform with him to hide.

As he returned from his last excursion, he heard the sound of horses' hooves and saw mounted Russian soldiers. They too, spotted Reb Chaikel immediately. To have run away would arouse even greater suspicion than being found in a graveyard in the middle of the night, so Reb Chaikel stayed where he was, standing next to a tree and saying vidui, for it was Yom Kippur night after all. He heard the soldiers calling out to him to stand still and he lay down on the ground. Tens of bullets were then fired at Reb Chaikel, but miraculously, they did not harm him. The soldiers then grabbed him and took him to the commander of the regiment.

"You are an enemy spy," the captain declared. "What is a young man doing outside at three o'clock in the morning? You must be spying for the enemy!"

"Tonight is the holiest night of the year for us," Reb Chaikel responded, "and I wouldn't lie to you. Today, a young man died in front of his parents. (This was quite true. Reb Chaikel was thinking of the Jewish soldier who had been executed for deserting.) I had mercy on the boy's mother and I took him away to bury him. Even though I realized that you would suspect me, what I'm telling you is still the truth."

The officer began to rave, calling Reb Chaikel a liar. He then said, "We are not too far from the graveyard now. Show me where you buried him." Reb Chaikel agreed, feeling that he had nothing to lose anyway by so doing. If the officer decided to actually accompany him, he would have to admit the truth eventually. He nevertheless felt secure that the fact that it was Yom Kippur night would provide him with merit that would protect him.

The two of them walked along together and in the end, the officer clapped Reb Chaikel on the shoulder and exclaimed, "You are a hero! It was really courageous of you to go and bury the boy because you took pity on his mother. You are free to go." The officer sent an armed guard along with Reb Chaikel, to escort him to the town. The next day, all the Russian soldiers left Stutchin and the Jewish soldiers came out of hiding and joined the townsfolk in the beis haknesses, amid much rejoicing.

Because of the war, our master and teacher Reb Leib Chasman zt'l was not in Stutchin. The first time he met Reb Chaikel again was after they had both reached Eretz Yisroel. The latter excitedly repeated his tale to Reb Leib, telling him all the miracles which he had experienced that night. Reb Leib responded, "Why are you so amazed? The gemora (Pesochim 8) states explicitly that mitzva emissaries come to no harm, both on their outward and their return trips"!

What we ought to learn from this story is the length to which a fifteen year old boy went in order to help his fellow Jews. It is about such outstanding behavior that the posuk says, "Ish ki yafli, a man who does something wondrous!"

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