The Torah's Safeguards
The words of the rabbis that “One who sees the shame of the woman who was
unfaithful should thereupon abstain from consuming wine” are well known and
oft-repeated. The obvious meaning of this message is that in life everyone
must drive defensively. Let no one allow one’s self to be found in
compromising circumstances and to think that somehow one is immune from its
In our current world there are numerous shameful and sad examples of people
in high office and great achievement who have been brought to shame and
grief by the revelations of their indiscretions. The rabbis in Avot stated
that there always is “an eye that sees us”– a constantly recording
surveillance camera, if you will, that captures our movements and behavior.
The public revelation of another’s sin should serve as a reminder to all of
the consequences of that sin. The Torah that ordinarily is very protective
of one’s right to privacy, even the rights of a sinner, chose to publicize
the fate of the unfaithful woman in order to impress upon others the
necessity of care and probity in all matters of life.
One should never say that this can never happen to me. When it comes to the
areas of human appetites and desires there are no automatic safeguards.
Rather, only care, vigilance and avoidance of risk and compromising
situations are the unique tools of prevention readily available. Hence the
clear connection that the rabbis make between witnessing sin and imbibing
too much wine. Just as driving an automobile under the influence of alcohol
and drugs is legally forbidden, so is life generally to be lived free those
types of influences.
Addiction to alcohol was a rather rare occurrence in Jewish society over the
ages. However acculturation and assimilation over the past century have made
alcohol a problem in our current Jewish world. The idea of abstinence from
wine as described in the parsha regarding the regimen of the nazir is meant
to be taken generally as a message of moderation and good sense.
Like many other things in life, a little alcohol can be pleasurable and
beneficial but a lot can be harmful and even lethal. The Torah holds up the
faithless woman and the nazir as examples of the dangers that lie lurking in
everyday life. It is essentially foolish for any human being to ignore these
omnipresent temptations and dangers.
Again, we read in Avot that one should not trust one’s self even until the
final moment of life. An abundance of over-confidence in one’s ability to
withstand temptations of all sorts will always lead to unforeseen problems
and sad consequences. All of human experience testifies to this conclusion.
Much of the modern world, including much of the current Jewish world as
well, mocks and derides any type of defensive driving in personal life
matters. The concept of personal freedom has morphed into a lifestyle where
any restraints on personal behavior, reasonable as they may be, are attacked
and derided. Well, fashions and mores may change with the times but human
behavior does not and therefore the moral restraints the Torah imposes on us
remain eternally valid and cogent.
Rabbi Berel Wein