Two ways to look at a situation

There are two ways to deal with the woman accused of infidelity in this week’s parsha, that of the kohen or that of the nazir. This is also true of various evils we encounter.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

How does a person react when they encounter evil? This week’s parsha, Parshat Naso, describes two personalities who encounter the exact same case, that of a woman accused of infidelity by her husband, the isha sota. Although the situation is the same, the Torah tells us that each of these personalities deals with the phenomenon in a completely different way.

The first personality is that of the kohen. As the Torah describes it: "A man whose wife goes in a perverted way (...)the man should bring his wife to the kohen." The kohen is dealing with the unpleasant case of a woman who is feared to have been unfaithful to her husband. So the kohen needs to have the woman stand before him, he prepares the bitter waters, uncovers her head, makes her take an oath, and finally feeds her the water. If she is innocent, nothing untoward happens and she is blessed. If she is guilty, the waters affect her badly.

Unlike the classic roles of the kohen, such as bringing Temple offerings or blessing the nation, the role of the kohen in the matter of an isha sota is an extremely uncomfortable one. The kohen, who usually deals with purity and holiness, in this case is required to deal with one of the evils of life.

Despite this discomfort, the kohen performs his role because he understands that the procedure is the correct one to follow, because G-d has so commanded. He does his duty in order to try to help a couple in crisis. On further reflection, the role of the kohen in this case is true to his general role, to increase peace and kindness in the world and strengthen the bond between the people of Israel and their heavenly Father. This is the goal of the kohen even when dealing with such an unpleasant experience.

In contrast to the kohen, in this week’s parsha we are also introduced to the character of the “nazir”. Rashi quotes the words of our Sages, Chazal: "Why does the Torah’s teachings about a nazir immediately follow the Torah’s teachings about an isha sota? To teach us that one who sees an isha sota in her disgrace will become a nazir and abstain from drinking wine because drinking wine can bring to improper behavior.”

The nazir, like the kohen, cannot remain indifferent in the face of evil, but his reaction is very different to that of the kohen. While the kohen intervenes and attempts to help solve the problem, the nazir takes care to separate himself from the incident, moving away so that what happened to the couple in crisis should G-d forbid not happen to him. He remains “sterile” instead of trying to help that troubled couple solve their problem.

The same is true of all of us. Many times, we encounter evil which requires rectification. And we have two ways of coping: One way is to follow in the nazir's footsteps; to see someone performing evil, understand how dangerous it is and learn from them how not to behave so that we too will not fall. The second way, however, is to follow the path of the kohen; to look at evil being performed and see if and how we are able to fix the situation, and to bring the world to a better place.

The way of the kohen is the finer and more ideal way. It is not suitable for everyone in every situation, but that is the way which will eventually lead to bringing the world to its full fruition. It is a way full of love and faith that does not give up on any person, but fulfills the words of Pirkei Avot “Hillel says ‘be of the disciplines of Aharon (the first kohen gadol) love peace and pursue peace, love all creatures and bring them close to the Torah.”

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Organization and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in