“Just A Sign” Naso — Shavuot 5776

Parashat Naso contains a lengthy discussion on the topic of the “Sotah”, a wife who is suspected of adultery. If this woman is caught secluding herself with her suspected lover, then she is forced to undergo a bizarre procedure: She is brought to the Beit HaMikdash, she receives a written warning that if she is guilty then she will die a horrific death. The parchment upon which the warning is written is ground up and thrown into a bowl of water. The woman is forced to drink the water and then everybody waits [Bemidbar 5:27-28]: “It shall be that, if she had been defiled and was unfaithful to her husband, the curse-bearing waters shall enter her to become bitter, and her belly will swell and her thigh will rupture. The woman will be a curse among her people. But if the woman had not become defiled and she is clean then she shall be exempted and shall bear seed.” If, on the other hand, the woman admits that she is guilty before she drinks, then the whole procedure is waived and her husband divorces her without having to pay her ketuba[1].

The ordeal of the bitter waters stands out as the only instance in the Torah in which an uncertainty is clarified supernaturally. But apparently the ordeal worked and was regularly implemented until the near end of the second Beit HaMikdash, when it was abolished due to the abundance of infidelity. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky asks why “Trial by Ordeal” is implemented specifically with the Sotah. Doesn’t the Torah usually frown upon the determination of facts by using supernatural means[2]? Rav Kamenetsky proposes a solution based upon human psychology. While a court is a good place to determine how to address an uncertainty, it is not a good place to understand what really happened behind closed doors. The court is not concerned with the facts, it is concerned with justice. Just because the court found the Sotah innocent does not mean that she did not really cheat on her husband. The doubt will continue to linger in her husband’s mind and to gnaw on his conscience. Does she love me or does she not? If, however, supernatural means are used to determine the truth, then the evidence is incontrovertible. Her stomach did not blow up, ergo she was faithful.

Last week a horrible tragedy occurred in Moreshet. Moran Lubich killed herself two days after her fourteenth birthday. Nobody understood why. Nobody could breathe. Everybody hugged their children extra tight that night. I did not know Moran. As far as I was concerned, she came into existence only after she died, when I looked her up on the internet to see who this person was. It turns out that Moran was blessed with a beautiful voice and a keen ability to turn her thoughts into music. It also turns out that Moran was having a crisis of faith. And so she recorded a song about her doubts and uploaded it to YouTube. The name of the song is “Im Ata Kayyam” — “If You Exist.” It has a catchy tune that has been stuck in my mind since I first heard the song. Here are some of the lyrics:

There are people who believe in G-d

There are others who just go on living

There are those who deny

And there are those who love

But me – I’m just a little mixed up

G-d, I want to know if You exist

There are others who are also searching

So maybe You can give us an answer

Or even just a sign…

Just a sign. If I could tell Moran just one thing, I would tell her that no matter what “sign” He sends, no matter how clear He makes it, most people won’t believe in Him any more than they did before. Belief does not reside in a person’s mind. Belief is not acquired through a person’s eyes or ears. Belief is visceral — it lies in a person’s belly. The only effect signs have is to reinforce pre-existing beliefs. The greatest miracle in the history of the world was the splitting of the Red Sea. The Midrash teaches that Hashem’s absolute power could physically be seen. “What a handmaiden saw at the Red Sea was greater than the prophecy of the greatest prophets”. The Torah bears witness that at the Red Sea [Shemot 14:31] “Israel saw the great hand, which Hashem had used upon the Egyptians, and the people feared Hashem and they believed in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant.” Hashem gave them a sign and they believed — for about fifteen minutes.

Soon after Am Yisrael exit the Red Sea, we are told how [Shemot 15:2-3] “The entire community of the children of Israel complained against Moshe and against Aharon in the desert… If only we had died by the hand of Hashem in the land of Egypt… You have brought us into this desert to starve this entire congregation to death!” How did their belief evaporate so quickly? The value of a sign, even the best of signs, is short-lived at best.

After a man’s wife has survived the curse-bearing waters their life is meant to go back to the way it once was. All doubt has been purged. Or has it? The Talmud in Tractate Sotah [21a] teaches that the merit of certain mitzvot[3] can delay or even negate the effect of the waters. What is going through the husband’s mind as he returns home from the Beit HaMikdash? Is she really innocent or did she just escape death? Does she love me or does she not? Only he can answer that question, and his answer depends to a great extent on how much he loves her and how much he believes in her.

I’m worried that because of Moran’s tragic death, her song is becoming sort of an anthem to the youth here in Moreshet. This is not the message that I want her to bequeath to my children. I don’t want them searching for something they won’t even recognize when what they’re looking for already lies in their souls just waiting to be nurtured. So here’s what I tell my children: If I had written “Im Ata Kayam,” here’s how I would have written it:

There are people who believe in G-d

There are others who don’t

I do, no matter what.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka.

[1] In the standard Israeli wedding the ketuba is typically worth about half a million shekels. It is definitely in the husband’s best interest if his wife admits her infidelity before drinking the bitter waters – nobody dies and he saves a bundle of money.

[2] The Talmud in Tractate Bava Metzia [59b] brings the famous case of the “Oven of Akhnai”, in which Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Eliezer had a disagreement. “On that day Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: “If the Halacha is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits from its place… “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” they retorted. Again he said to them “If the Halacha agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!” Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. “No proof can be brought from a channel of water,” they rejoined. Again he urged, “If the Halacha agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it!” Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But Rabbi Yehoshua rebuked the walls, saying, “When disciples of the wise are engaged in a Halachic dispute, what right have you to interfere?”… Again Rabbi Eliezer then said to the Sages, “If the Halacha agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” Sure enough, a Divine Voice cried out, “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer with whom the Halacha always agrees?” Rabbi Yehoshua stood up and protested: “The Torah is not in heaven! Since Mount Sinai we pay no attention to a Divine Voice”.

[3] For instance the studying of Torah.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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