Laws Masquerading as Morality Nazir 34 Psychology of the Daf Yomi
Our Mishna on Amud Aleph and the rest of the daf begins a discussion about the various prohibitions and foods that the Nazir is restricted from.
The verses spell out four different kinds of wine related products (Bamidbar 6:3-4):
- מִיַּ֤יִן וְשֵׁכָר֙ יַזִּ֔יר
- חֹ֥מֶץ יַ֛יִן וְחֹ֥מֶץ שֵׁכָ֖ר לֹ֣א יִשְׁתֶּ֑ה
- וְכׇל־מִשְׁרַ֤ת עֲנָבִים֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁתֶּ֔ה
- וַעֲנָבִ֛ים לַחִ֥ים וִיבֵשִׁ֖ים לֹ֥א יֹאכֵֽל׃
- they shall abstain from wine and any other intoxicant;
- they shall not drink vinegar of wine or of any other intoxicant,
- neither shall they drink anything in which grapes have been steeped,
- nor eat grapes fresh or dried.
Akeidas Yitschok (73:1) explains each prohibited grape product represents a different feature of personality that the Nazir seeks to rectify. Drunkenness itself is symbolic for lack of rational or proper thought. Within this, there are different distortions that can occur to challenge the person’s ethics.
The first kind of distortion is total lack of regard and boundaries in relation to what is sinful and what is not. Such a gross distortion is represented by straight wine, and within the text “they shall abstain from wine and any other intoxicant” “מִיַּ֤יִן וְשֵׁכָר֙ יַזִּ֔יר”
The second kind of distortion is when there is a faulty belief system and set of laws. In a sense, a person can be “moral” in following the laws of the land. But if he is part of a corrupt society with corrupt laws, then he is still distorted. To quote Yeshaiyahu Leibowitz, “Morality? MORALITY you say? The Nazis were plenty moral – they obeyed all their laws perfectly!” This distortion is represented in the text, “חֹ֥מֶץ יַ֛יִן וְחֹ֥מֶץ שֵׁכָ֖ר לֹ֣א יִשְׁתֶּ֑ה” “they shall not drink vinegar of wine or of any other intoxicant.״ Almost as intoxicating as the wine itself, one step off. with law masquerading as morality but steeped in sin.
The third kind of distortion is when a person starts with some understanding of correct theology and morality but then somehow is led astray through being influenced by heretical secular principles, such as the followers of Tzaddok and Baytus, who were learned in Torah but became heretics. This is represented in the text, “neither shall they drink anything in which grapes have been steeped.” “וְכׇל־מִשְׁרַ֤ת עֲנָבִים֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁתֶּ֔ה” The food soaked in wine is the original correct theology now sullied by the external heretical ideas
And finally the fourth distortion is heretical thoughts that arise from internal sources. Incomplete, impetuous or faulty thinking leads to misguided theology. This is represented in the text, “וַעֲנָבִ֛ים לַחִ֥ים וִיבֵשִׁ֖ים לֹ֥א יֹאכֵֽל”. “nor eat grapes fresh or dried”. Fresh and dried grapes are not wine, but they can become wine, the fresh grapes more easily fermentable, but even the dried grapes can be made into raisin wine. These stand for incomplete thoughts, some more conscious, others subconscious, that could lead the person to incorrect and heretical beliefs.
In my opinion, many people today cannot rely on simple faith alone. There are simply too many scientific ideas that we have learned to just ignore them. Most people who obtain advanced degrees and a well rounded liberal arts education will not be able to worship God with a grade schooler’s grasp of religion. Nevertheless, this should serve as a cautionary note that it is easy to be led astray, and study must be undertaken with sobriety.