Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) You’re Cold As Ice but Are You Willing to Sacrifice?

Imagine a college freshman who is away from home for the first time; the feeling of freedom sets in immediately. He can finally party, drink, and do other activities whenever he likes but he isn’t mature in how he uses his new autonomy (Is this fiction? A May 30, 2013 article in the Harvard Crimson entitled “A Freshman Drinking Problem: Months after Harvard Adopted A New Alcohol Policy, A Dangerous Freshman Drinking Culture Remains” doesn’t seem to think so). After a month or two he begins to see the effects of his recent lifestyle changes. He has awful grades, a run in with the police, and begins to feel isolated; his old friends even caution him about his reckless behavior. What can he do? When he finally realizes that his newfound freedom is destroying him, he must take back his life. He determines that merely refraining from his careless lifestyle won’t be enough; he must do something extreme and, consequently, decides to cease drinking any alcoholic beverages until the end of the semester. No social drinking even if it’s minimal; not even a cup of wine when his parents visit and take him out to dinner. Although his behavior is severe, being as he knows his weaknesses and inclinations better than anyone else, he feels that this extreme behavior until the end of the semester is a necessity. Hopefully by then, he will be able to know how to live with his newfound freedom. Although he might not know it, the freshman in our story could have gotten inspiration for his idea from this week’s Torah portion.Two topics are juxtaposed; one involving a suspected adulterous, the other involving a Nazir, “Nazirite,” (not to be confused with Nazarene), a person who voluntarily accepts three restrictions  on himself: He will not (1) drink wine or even eat grapes or (2) cut his hair or (3) come near a corpse. The topics of the suspected adulterous and the Nazir are juxtaposed to teach us a practical lesson for life: sometimes a person becomes so immersed in the indulgences of this world that he loses control and becomes a slave to them. One needs merely to read the about lives of the many rock stars and athletes who at a young age were able to fulfill every fantasy they ever had and now have issues with substance abuse, failed relationships and other ills associated with people who were never given the tools of how to enjoy this world to the fullest without ruining their lives in the process. Before getting to that point, a person might need to take extreme action to pull back from some of the stimuli of his world and that’s what the juxtaposition in this week’s Torah portion teaches us.When witnessing the trial of a suspected adulterous, a pensive question should be elicited; what lead to this? One reasonable answer is alcohol consumption, especially when we bear in mind that people often do things they regret when intoxicated. One homiletic explanation for why the two topics (suspected adulterous and Nazir) are juxtaposed is to teach that one who sees the suspected adulterous in disgrace will be so taken by it that he will be inspired to take an action-similar to our college freshman-to make sure that it doesn’t happen to him. The same way an alcoholic refrains from even a tiny amount of any intoxicating beverage, so too every person has weaknesses and knows that they might have the potential to make their life unmanageable and potentially ruin it. How many teachers have been fired due to inappropriate conduct? How many political, sports, entertainment and other careers have been ruined because people didn’t know how to deal with fear, narcissism, desire-issues we all deal with-and other character defects. Not knowing the extreme steps needed to get them out of their funk is what led them to their downfall.  The Nazir might seem to be an extremist but he is simply a realist. He understands the degradation of the suspected adulteress and wants to make sure it won’t happen to him; he doesn’t want to let that important thought dissipate and that’s why he takes the extreme measures (refraining from wine, etc.) he does. If he doesn’t take a tangible action for his feelings, he will be less sensitive the next time he is exposed to adultery. Ultimately, that type of behavior will seem normal to him.What issues are you less sensitive to now than you were years ago? Birthright participants get inspired about Israel, starting a Jewish home, and doing their best to insure Jewish continuity but they often lose these ideals due to lack of a tangible way to solidify their inspirations. Adultery is something that most people think is wrong when they get married but after years of dealing with couples, Sara and I have encountered many who-privately-will tell of a change in attitude due to the complicated marital situation they are now in and therefore they find themselves in compromising situations that lead to things they wouldn’t have dreamed of when they got married. Example: Anger is a trait that destroys; people vow that when they get married, they will talk things through whenever there is resentment-their marriage will be “different.” How is it that years later, in a fit of anger, they unleash it at their spouse-many times in front of their children? When they got married, they vowed never to do that “but now things are different, and the kids need to know how selfish their father (or mother) is.”  This tragedy is a direct result of not knowing how to maintain their values, even under trying circumstances. Had these couples had effective emotional and spiritual tools, they would not resorted to something they swore would never be a part of.Whether the topic is Jewish or non-Jewish, spiritual or physical, development of healthy character or healthy body, throughout our lives we are exposed to situations that motivate us with the desire to be better than we are now. If we don’t react and take a concrete action to actualize these inspirations, we will become cold to them. Global Warming is a subject on which people have strong opinions but for us there should be another (even more) important subject. How can we avoid being cold in relationships and life in general? Let us take a lesson from the Nazir, who was inspired to give up drinking wine and engaging in other activities for a short time so that he could recalibrate his life. He felt awful when he saw a woman who had made a bad life choice and didn’t want to lose the inspiration he had at that moment. If we don’t learn how to cultivate the occasional moment of inspiration, whether it’s a speech, article, conversation, or any other way, we risk becoming cold to the very thought or idea that we once wanted to be an integral part of our lives. Whether it’s being more organized or more honest, whether it’s spending more time with the family or spending more time at the gym, we need to do something to make that inspiration a reality.  It might seem to be a sacrifice, but it’s worth the price. Good Shabbos. (Sources: Rabbis Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (1730-1788), Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953)