A JEW ON A UNICYCLE
PARASHAT NASOÂ In Temple times,Â
if a woman was accused of adultery by her husband and there were serious grounds for suspicion, she was given a choice: accept a divorce, or stand up to a strange test. The test, if she opted for it, required her to drink “bitter waters” into which the name of G-d had been dissolved. If she was guilty, she died instantaneously. Before the Sotah drank the bitter waters, she was commanded to bring a unique Mincha, a flour offering.Â This offering was unique, for it was the only flour offering that did not consist of wheat flour, but barley flour. It was a Grade B Korban, a cheap sacrifice, as barley is cheaper than wheat. And, no â€œtoppingsâ€, no oil and no frankincense.Â For it is a Minchat Knaot, Minchat Zikaron, Mazkeret Avonâ€¦ (Bamidbar 5; 15) A flour offering of jealousy and zealousness, a flour offering of remembrance, and a reminder of sin. Rashi explains that the word Knaot, zealousness, is in the plural, referring to the zealousness of both G-d and her husband. But, what do the words remembrance, and a reminder of sin refer to? A remembrance of what? A reminder of what sin? She cannot be proven guilty until after she drinks the waters!?
The Orach Chaim explains this with an insight that reflects how people fall into sin and shows how sin can be avoided.Â This reminder of sin is a reminder of the first, cheap flour sacrifice brought by Kayin in the beginning of time. Kayin brought a cheap Mincha to the altar and was rejected by G-d, while his younger brother, Hebel, offered the best quality sheep he had, which G-d “licked” with fire. What did Kayin do wrong? Why was his sacrifice not accepted? Didnâ€™t his sacrifice pass quality inspection? How can this be referred to as a sin? And whatâ€™s the connection between the adulterous woman and Kayin’s having brought a cheap korban and then having killed his brother, Hebel?
Seforno explains the conversation between G-d and Kayin between and beyond the words. Â (Breishit 4; 4-8) G-d accepted Hebel and his Korban, and refused Kayin and his flour sacrifice. Seforno comments that when one brings a sacrifice, he is really bringing himself. This is the whole idea and the essence of the sacrifice. The Kavvana one was to have as the Kohen slaughtered the animal was – it is as if G-d is slaughtering me. His thoughts should have been, â€œI am bringing myself to G-dâ€. This is how G-d perceives the sacrifice, as well. When G-d accepts your sacrifice, He is not only accepting the offering of the animal, but He is accepting you. A korban is the root of its word, karov, getting close. G-d does not want people to be offered on the altar, so we bring an animal, instead. We bring our best animal, because that is what is closest to the best thing I have, me. Â This explains why Kayin took it so personally. G-d did not refuse only Kayinâ€™s sacrifice; G-d also refused Kayin.
And Kayin got angry, and his face fell. And G-d said to Kayin, why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you improve, you will be uplifted; and if you do not improve, sin crouches at the threshold, â€¦ Â The Seforno helps us understand these words as well. Kayin could not come to terms with the fact that G-d had accepted his brother and not him. G-d asked him, Whatâ€™s the big issue? There is nothing personal here. Why are you crestfallen?Â There is nothing here that canâ€™t be undone. If you better yourself, getting closer to G-d, you will also be accepted by G-d, like your brother, and you, also, will achieve great heights. And if you do not try to get closer to G-d, sin will lie in wait, passionately planning to lure you ever deeper and deeper into transgression. You can fight this inclination and release yourself from the clutches of sin only with special help from G-d, with the special powers of Repentance you will have by getting closer to G-d. But Kayin did not take this advice, and then, the result was the worst sin . Out of jealousy, he murdered Hebel,Â his only brother, the only other person in the world.
What is the moral of the story, the message G-d wants the Sotah, and all of us, to remember? When people sin, it is not only because they are not mindful of the safeguards preventing sin. (In the case of the adulterous woman, this means Â getting overly friendly with the neighbor, her boss, her coworker, etc.) That is just a part of the problem.Â Usually, the main reason is underestimated. It is because the person is not bettering him / herself in an effort to get closer to G-d. When one is not proactive about his spiritual growth, when he is not constantly improving his spiritual level, lust and inclination to sin lie in ambush. A bored person is an easier target for the Evil Inclination, because he is not a â€œmoving targetâ€. Â The adulterous woman fell to sin, primarily because she was not growing spiritually. She is a Grade B Korban, not one who devoted her “all” to forming her relationship with G-d. The worst scenarios – adultery or murdering one’s brother – can take place when a person is not growing. Â Becoming a Sotah started when spiritual growth stopped, just as Kayin’s becoming a murderer began when he decided to be satisfied with investing minimal effort in his spiritual growth.
This message leaves us no rest. This world is a two way street: you can be going only in one of two directions. There is no sidewalk, no shoulder of the road. A more accurate allegory is a unicycle. You’ve got to be moving forward, if you do not want to fall.