If a man’s wife goes astray (5:12)

A person does not sin unless a spirit of folly enters into him. (The word the Torah uses for the sotah’s “going astray,” shtut, also means “folly” and “insanity.”)

(Talmud, Sotah 3a)

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He shall bring her offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah of barley meal (5:15)

She acted like an animal; therefore her offering is of animal feed.

(Talmud, Sotah 14b)

Every Jew, whether righteous or wicked, has two souls. . . . One soul . . . clothes itself in the person’s blood to animate the body [and is the source of its egocentric drives and desires] . . . and the second soul of a Jew is literally a part of G‑d above [and is the source of the person’s striving to unite with G‑d] . . .

The body is called a “small city”: as two kings wage war over a city, each wishing to capture it and rule over it—that is to say, to govern its inhabitants according to his will, so that they obey him in all that he decrees for them—so do the two souls (the G‑dly [soul] and the vitalizing animal [soul] that derives from kelipah) wage war against each other over the body and all its organs and limbs.

The desire and will of the G‑dly soul is that it alone should rule over the person and direct him, and that all his limbs should obey it and surrender themselves completely to it and become a vehicle for it, and serve as a vehicle for its ten faculties [of intellect and emotion] and three “garments” [thought, speech and action] . . . and the entire body should be permeated with them alone, to the exclusion of any alien influence, G‑d forbid. . . . While the animal soul desires the very opposite . . .

(Tanya)


The priest shall write these oaths in a scroll, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water (5:23)

Great is peace! To make peace between husband and wife, the Torah instructs that the name of G‑d, written in holiness, should be blotted out in water. (The text of the oath administered to the sotah included the divine name.)

(Talmud, Chullin 141a)


It shall come to pass: if the woman had been defiled . . . her belly will swell and her thigh will rupture (5:27)

Just as the waters test her, they also test him (i.e., if she is guilty, the same happens to the adulterer).

(Talmud, Sotah 27b)


But if the woman had not become defiled, and she is clean, she shall be exempted and bear seed (5:28)

G‑d compensates her for her humiliation. If she was barren, she will now conceive; if she gave birth painfully, she will now give birth with ease; if she used to give birth to unattractive children, she will now give birth to beautiful children . . .

(Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 3:4)


He shall eat nothing that is made of the grapevine, from the seeds to the skin (6:4)

Though a vine is supported by straight reeds and forked reeds, it cannot stand up under the weight of the wine in the grapes. So if wine’s own mother cannot bear its burden, how then can you?

(Midrash Rabbah)

When Noah took to planting, Satan came and stood before him and said to him: “What are you planting?” Said he: “A vineyard.” Said Satan to him: “What is its nature?” Said he: “Its fruits are sweet, whether moist or dry, and one makes from them wine, which brings joy to the heart.” Said Satan to Noah: “Do you desire that we should plant it together, you and I?” Said Noah: “Yes.”

What did Satan do? He brought a lamb and slaughtered it over the vine; then he brought a lion and slaughtered it over it; then he brought a monkey, and slaughtered it over it; then he brought a swine and slaughtered it over it; and he watered the vine with their blood. Thus he alluded to Noah: When a person drinks one cup, he is like a lamb, modest and meek. When he drinks two cups, he becomes mighty as a lion and begins to speak with pride, saying: Who compares with me! As soon as he drinks three or four cups he becomes a monkey, dancing and frolicking and profaning his mouth, and knowing not what he does. When he becomes drunk he becomes a pig, dirtied by mud and wallowing in filth.

(Midrash Tanchuma)


And he shall make atonement for him, for that he sinned by his soul (6:11)

Whoever fasts is termed a sinner. . . . For it has been taught: . . . What is the Torah referring to when it says, “And make atonement for him, for that he sinned by his soul”? Against which soul did he sin? That he denied himself wine. Now, if this man who denied himself wine only is termed “a sinner,” how much more so he who denies himself the enjoyment of ever so many things!

Rabbi Eleazar says: He is termed holy. For it is written (ibid., v. 5), “He shall be holy; he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long.” Now, if this man who denied himself wine only is termed “holy,” how much more so he who denies himself the enjoyment of ever so many things!

(Talmud, Taanit 11a)

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Shimon Hatzaddik said: In the whole of my life, I never ate of the guilt-offering of a nazir, except in one instance. There was a man who came to me from the south. He had beautiful eyes and handsome features, with his locks heaped into curls. I asked him: “Why, my son, did you resolve to destroy such beautiful hair?” He answered: “In my native town I was my father’s shepherd, and on going down to draw water from the well I saw my reflection [in its waters]. My heart leaped within me and my evil inclination assailed me, seeking to compass my ruin, and so I said to it: ‘Evil one! Why do you plume yourself over a world that is not your own? For your end is but worms and maggots. I swear that I shall shear these locks to the glory of Heaven!” Then I rose and kissed him upon his head and said to him: “May there be many nazirites such as you in Israel. Of one such as yourself does the verse (Numbers 6:2) say: ‘A man or a woman who shall pronounce a special vow of a nazir, to consecrate themselves to G‑d.’”

(Talmud, Nazir 4b; Sifri)


This is the law of the nazir on the day that the days of his abstention are completed . . . (6:13)

Why does the Torah section dealing with the laws of the nazir follow immediately after the section dealing with the laws of the sotah? To tell you that whoever sees a sotah’s ruin should forswear wine.

(Rashi)

Once, in the early days of Chassidism, a learned Jew happened upon a farbrengen (a chassidic gathering). Taking in the sight of half-empty vodka bottles on the table, of Jews singing and dancing instead of studying Torah, he cried: “Jews! The Holy Temple is in ruins, Israel is in exile, and you dance and drink?!”

Present at the farbrengen was Rabbi Dovid Purkes, a senior disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. “I have a question for you,” said Rabbi Dovid to the visitor. “In one place, Rashi writes that a nazir’s vow to abstain from wine is an appropriate reaction for one who witnesses human susceptibility to corruption by physical appetites. But only a few verses later, Rashi quotes the Talmudic opinion which regards the nazir’s abstinence as a sin. Which is it? Is drinking wine a positive or a negative thing to do?

“I’ll tell you the difference between the two cases,” continued Rabbi Dovid. “The first statement by Rashi is addressed to one who ‘sees a sotah’s ruin.’ A person who is capable of seeing the negative in a fellow Jew had better not drink wine. Wine will agitate his heart, and he’ll probably be roused to discover more failings and deficiencies in his fellows. But someone who is blessed with the ability to see only the good in his fellow—for him to avoid getting together with other Jews for a l’chaim is nothing less than sinful. An infusion of wine into his heart will stimulate it to uncover the hidden good in the hearts of his fellows.”

(Reshimot Devarim)


May G‑d bless you and keep you (6:24)

With G‑d’s blessing comes His protection of the blessing. A mortal king has a servant in Syria, while he himself lives in Rome. The king sends for him. He sets out and comes to him. He gives him a hundred pounds of gold. He packs it up and sets out on his journey. Robbers fall upon him and take away all that he had given him and all that he had with him. . . . But when G‑d blesses one with riches, He also guards them from robbers.

(Midrash Rabbah)


May G‑d make His face shine upon you, and give you grace (6:25)

He will give you the wisdom to be gracious to each other and merciful to each other.

(Midrash Rabbah)


May G‑d lift up His face to you (6:26)

He will turn His face towards you, for it is not the same thing for a man to greet his neighbor while looking him in the face as to greet him with his head turned to one side.

(Midrash Rabbah)


. . . and give you peace (6:26)

If there is no peace, there is nothing.

(Torat Kohanim)


They shall set My name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them (6:27)

I would have thought that if the kohanim desire to bless Israel, then Israel is blessed, but if they do not, they are not; therefore the verse tells me: “I will bless them.” In either case, says G‑d, I will bless them from heaven.

The kohanim bless Israel, but who blesses the kohanim? Therefore the verse tells me: “I will bless them.”

(Sifri Zuta)


The one who offered his offering on the first day was Nachshon the son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah. And his offering was: One silver dish, weighing 130 shekels. One silver bowl of 70 shekels . . . On the second day offered Nethanel the son of Zuar, of the tribe of Issachar. His offering was: One silver dish, weighing 130 shekels. One silver bowl of 70 shekels . . . (7:12–23)

The Torah is very mincing with words: many a complex chapter of Torah law is derived from a choice of context, a turn of language, even an extra letter. Yet in our Parshah, the Torah seemingly “squanders” dozens of verses by itemizing the gifts brought by the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel on the occasion of the inauguration of the Sanctuary. Each tribe brought its offering on a different day, but the gifts they each brought were identical in every respect, down to the weight of the silver plates and the age of the five lambs. Nevertheless, the Torah recounts each tribe’s gift separately, repeating the 35-item list twelve times in succession.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 13 & 14) explains that while the twelve tribes made identical offerings, each experienced the event in a different manner. Each of the 35 items in the offering symbolized something—a personality or event in Jewish history, or a concept in Jewish faith or practice—but to each tribe they symbolized different things, relating to that tribe’s role. For the twelve tribes represent the various vocations amongst the people of Israel: Judah produced Israel’s kings, leaders and legislators; Issachar its scholars; Zebulun its seafarers and merchants; and so on. All conform to the same divinely ordained guidelines, all order their lives by the same Torah; yet each flavors the very same deeds with his individual nature and approach.

Often we tend to see a tension between conformity and creativity, between tradition and innovation. On the one hand, we recognize the bedrock of absolutes upon which a meaningful existence must rest, the time-tested truths which transcend cultures and generations; on the other, we are faced with the powerful drive to create, to personalize, to grow and soar with our individualized talents and tools.

Our daily prayers, for example, follow the basic text instituted by the prophets and sages of the Great Assembly more than 2,300 years ago; as such, their content and wording optimally express the manner in which man relates to G‑d. Yet how is the individual in man to be satisfied with a common formula for every person?

Is monotony the price we must pay for perfection? Does creativity compromise truth? Not so, say the 72 “repetitious” verses in our Parshah. An entire nation, including individuals of every conceivable character and calling, can do the very same deed, down to every last detail, and still imbue them with their uniquely personal input. Even as they relate to the ultimate common denominator of their bond with G‑d, they each bring to the experience the richness of their own creative souls.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


When Moses would enter the Sanctuary to speak with [G‑d], he would hear the voice speaking to him from above the cover of the Ark of Testimony . . . and it spoke to him (7:89)

One might think that this (the fact that only Moses heard the voice of G‑d) was because the voice was low. So the verse stresses that it was the voice—the same voice that spoke to him at Sinai. But when it reached the doorway it stopped, and did not extend outside of the Sanctuary.

(Rashi)

A basic tenet of the Jewish faith is that man has been granted the freedom to choose between good and evil, between adherence to his divinely ordained mission in life and rebellion against, or even denial of, his Creator. As Maimonides writes, “Were G‑d to decree that a person be righteous or wicked, of if there were to exist something in the essence of a person’s nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed . . . how could G‑d command us through the prophets, ‘Do this’ and ‘do not do this’ . . . ? What place would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice would G‑d punish the wicked and reward the righteous . . . ?”

This is the deeper significance of the “short stop” made by the divine voice at the doorway of the Sanctuary. At Sinai, the words “I am G‑d your G‑d” resounded throughout the universe, permeating every creature and creation. At that moment, there was no possibility of doubt of G‑d’s reality, or of nonconformity to His will. But then the world fell silent, and the voice retreated to hover over the “Ark of Testimony” that contains G‑d’s Torah and to confine itself to the four walls of the Sanctuary that houses it.

The volume was not lowered—the voice is no less infinite and omnipotent than it was at Sinai. One who enters the Sanctuary hears a voice that penetrates and permeates all, a voice that knows no bounds or equivocations. But one can choose to remain outside of the domain of Torah, to deny himself the knowledge and the way of life in which G‑d makes Himself heard. One can choose to remain outside, in the field of G‑d’s self-imposed silence.

It is this choice that creates the challenge of life, making our every moral victory a true and significant achievement.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)