Parshas Naso :
Witness to Sin

By Rabbi Eliezer Irons

The Sotah, a woman suspected of adultery, is a topic in this week's Parsha. A Sotah must either confess her guilt, or suffer public humiliation. The Sotah, upon denying her guilt, would be forced to drink waters, in which G-d's name was placed. If she were truly guilty, her stomach would expand and burst.

    The Nazir (Nazarite) is discussed immediately following Sotah. Nazir is a voluntary status that one pursues to attain greater levels of holiness. A Nazir is forbidden to drink wine or eat grapes, cut his hair, or become defiled by a human corpse.

Rashi, quoting the Talmud, asks,

"What is the connection between these two topics?"

(A connection exists when the Torah places two topics sequentially.)

    The Talmud answers that one who sees the humiliation of the Sotah should abstain from wine, etc., and become a Nazir. If one sees a Sotah, a woman who fell victim to her desires, it may influence him to sin as well. In order to protect himself against the type of evil inclination that corrupted the Sotah, he should become a Nazir.

Why would witnessing the humiliation of a Sotah influence one to sin?

    Logic dictates that the exact opposite should occur! Onlookers should be fearful when witnessing the consequences of the averah (the sin).

    To answer this question, we must first examine a difficult passage Sefer D'varim (12,17) in prohibiting the eating of maaser sheni (the second tithe) outside Jerusalem. The verse uses the curious terminology "you are not able to eat." It would appear to make more sense had the Torah said "You should not eat forbidden food." One is certainly able to eat forbidden food; it is among his physical capabilities.

    The Telzer Rosh Yeshiva Reb Eliyahu Meir Bloch zt"l explains that the Torah here teaches us that sin should be viewed as something unimaginable and far removed from the realm of possibility. To illustrate the point, consider this example: A man on a roof who is ordered to jump is likely to respond "I can't." Of course, he is physically able, but in his mind it is utterly unimaginable and psychologically impossible.

    Based on this explanation, we can now proceed to our original question. When one witnesses the humiliation of the Sotah, he realizes that the averah he once thought to be unimaginable is now a distinct possibility. In order to protect himself, the witness must therefore become a Nazir and thereby elevate himself to his former level.
    This idea parallels the concept of Chilul Hashem (a disgrace to G-d) expressed by Tosafos Yom Tov, in Yoma 8:8. "Anyone who does an averah (a sin) and others are influenced thereby to take the matter lightly and to act likewise is committing the sin of Chilul Hashem." This week's Parsha takes the Tosafos Yom Tov idea one step further. Not only witnessing the actual criminal act, but even witnessing the punishment and humiliation of the crime can have a deleterious influence on the viewer.

    From this we can derive a practical halacha (law) regarding the law of lashon harah (talebearing and gossiping). Lashon harah is a serious averah, but can one speak lashon harah about himself? The Chafetz Chaim addresses self-abasing lashon harah in two places. First, he warns that one cannot absolve himself from the guilt of lashon harah by including himself in the story about a friend. One may speak unfavorable about himself, but not about a friend.

    In another instance, the Chafetz Chaim writers that if upon hearing lashon harah, it is forbidden to believe it. However, if the talebearer mentions himself in the story, it is permissible to accept his story as true . . . but only about himself. It is forbidden to believe what he says about his friend.

    From these two places one could possibly deduce that it is permitted to speak lashon harah about oneself. *According to the lessons of Parshas Naso, even though one may not be violating the laws of lashon harah, it is forbidden to tell others of one's own sins, because by doing so, one is violating the law of chilul Hashem. If one repeats tales of his own sins, he may entice a friend to sin. It will show him that it is possible to commit the sin.

May we be only good, positive influences on each other and all of Kl'al Yisroel.

*Based on the above we can have a better understanding of the ruling of the Rema (Orach Chaim 607) that one is not allowed to confess one's private sins in public.
- Rabbi Eliezer Irons

1997 by the Chicago Community Kollel
Published Tuesday June 13, 1997


Rabbi Eliezer Irons is a fulltime member of the kollel and you can contact him by writing



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