Rashi (6:2) writes, “Why does the Torah write the [laws of] nazir after [the laws of] sotah? Because whoever sees the sotah disgraced will declare himself a nazir and steer away from drinking wine because wine brings to adultery.” Taking precautions prevent people from sinning. As the Gemara says, “Tell a nazir, ‘Keep away! Don’t come close to the vineyard’” (Pesachim 40:). There is no prohibition for a nazir to enter a vineyard. He is only proscribed from eating grapes. But he is encouraged to stay away too keep him away from temptation, because after one is tempted he is liable to succumb. The decrees of Chazal are based on this principle. To distant people from sins, they forbade the matters that could lead to sin.
In the Mishnah and in the Gemara Nazir and Sotah are also next to each other, only Nazir comes before Sotah (and not after, like in the Chumash). The Imrei Emes zt’l explained that this indicates the necessity of taking precautions before problems arise. In the Torah the sotah was first, and then people take precautions by becoming a nazir, so it shouldn’t happen again. The Mishnah is expressing, let’s become a nazir to steer far away from sins, so there will be no sotah at all.
Transgressing a “boundary”is considered worse than actual sins from the Torah. As Chazal say, “Whoever transgresses the words of the Rabbis [who make precautions and gates for the Torah] is deserving of the death penalty” (Brachos 4:). And it states, “Someone who breaks the fence should be bitten by a snake” (Koheles 10:8). These stern expressions are specifically said for someone who transgresses on the precautions. It’s considered worse than actual sin. For example, Shema can be read the entire night up until the morning. To prevent a person from missing Shema at night, the chachamim decreed that one should say Shema before midnight. The Gemara (Brachos 4) teaches, “The chachamim made a fence for their words, so a person shouldn’t return from work at night and say, ‘I will go home, eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little, and then I will read the Shema and daven,’ because then he might sleep through the night. Rather, a person should come home from work at night and go to the synagogue. If he is accustomed to reading Tanach, he should do so. If he knows how to learn Mishnah, he should do that, and then he says Shema and he prays and he eats his bread and benches. Whoever transgresses the words of the chachamim deserve the death penalty.” For not saying Shema, one doesn’t deserve the death penalty, but for choosing to read the Shema after midnight, he does. This demonstrates that transgressing the words of the chachamim is even more severe than transgressing a Torah law.
Why is transgressing a precaution so severe? Reb Yonoson Eibshitz zt’l (others say the Dubno Magid zt’l) explained it with a mashal: One of the king’s officers spit at the king. That officer is immediately arrested and sent to a dungeon, and he will be tried for treason, and surely punished harshly. However, the one who breaks the fence surrounding the palace with the intention to get into the palace will be killed immediately. Why is the latter’s punishment so harsh and quick? His deed wasn’t as brazen as the one who spit at the king? The answer is, the vandal who broke into the fence must be stopped right away. There’s no telling what he might do, and the destruction he might cause. Similarly, when one begins to transgress the fences and precautions that the chachamim established, there is no knowing of how far he might go. He must be stopped instantly and even harshly.
The Brisker Rav zt’l told the following mashal: There was a town that needed a new wagon driver. The driver who held the position until then had aged and was becoming incapable of driving long distances. The elderly wagon driver was insulted, and said, “I only agree to hand over the reins to a new wagon driver after I test him and find him suitable for the position. We can’t let just anyone be the town’s wagon driver.” The old wagon driver asked the new one, “What will you do if your wagon gets caught in mud and can’t get out?” “I will take off the suitcases, tell everyone to get off, so it will be easier for the horses to pull it out of the mud.” “And what will you do if that doesn’t work?” “I will ask people to push the wagon from behind, to help the horses.” “And what will you do if that doesn’t work?” The young novice admitted that he doesn’t know. It was concluded that he wasn’t worthy for the job, and the old hand would continue with his job. The young driver asked the elderly one, “Although I lost my position, I still want to know the answer?” The elderly man replied, “An experienced wagon driver wouldn’t drive his horses into the mud to begin with.” There are solutions in the Torah to all problems, but it’s so much better to avoid the pitfalls and problems in the first place.
Rebbe Tzaddok HaCohen zt’l overheard a pauper tell his son, "Do you see that coin over there, on the ground? Pick it up and we’ll buy food with it." The son said, "I don’t have strength to bend down." The father picked up the coin himself, and bought thirteen apples with it. He wanted his son to eat the apples, but the boy said, "I don’t deserve them, because I didn’t pick up the coin." “But you haven’t eaten for quite some time now. You are certainly hungry. Take an apple.” But the boy repeated that he feels he doesn’t deserve it, because he didn’t pick up the coin. The father walked ahead, and purposely dropped one apple. Then he walked a few more meters, and dropped another apple. He continued doing this, until he dropped all thirteen apples. The child followed his father and picked up the apples one by one, until he had collected all thirteen apples. Now the son felt comfortable eating them, because he had worked for them. But first he had to wash them from the mud. Rebbe Tzaddok HaCohen said, "I learned from this episode that if one doesn’t want to bend once, he will end up bending several times and still have to work [to wash the apples]." The nimshal is related to sins. One can always repent and correct sins, but the correction can take time and effort until the impression of sin is completely erased and washed away. It’s therefore so much better to initially steer away from sin, than to work hard and bend down many times, to correct the past.
Included in our discussion are the guidelines and boundaries the rabbanim of each generation set. Hashem grants every generation tzaddikim to lead the generation, to preserve the continuity of Klal Yisrael. In our generation, all rabbanim see modern technology as a threat to the continuity of Klal Yisrael, and they set up boundaries that enable us to live in this world as G-d fearing Jews, without falling into the traps that the yetzer hara laid out. It is our privilege, and also our obligation, to obey their directives.
In our generation, the forbidden books are the technology opportunities that the gedolei hador forbade (or permit with specific guidelines). When misused, they prevent all bounty from coming to Klal Yisrael. Those who follow the regulations are certainly fortunate in this world and in the next. There are those who think they are wiser, and don’t have to listen to the guidelines of the tzaddikim. They say that today’s tzaddikim aren’t familiar with the reality of the generation, and if they were more “with it,” they would also permit these matters. Obviously, that isn’t true. The chachamim know exactly what’s happening in this generation. To claim otherwise is simply the yetzer hara’s influence, to give people the freedom to do as they desire. Today, l’havdil, even secular people are aware of the problems of technology. It isn’t a secret that modern technology is ruining society, emotional health, relationships, and so much more, only they don’t know how to curb it. It’s been clinically proven that the less one is involved with the internet, the happier his life will be. The secular world’s awareness to the problem is merely stated here as a side point, because we don’t need their support. We listen to the rabbanim, because we trust their guidance. If one listens to the leaders of the generation only when he agrees with them, it means that he never listens to them. He’s following his own mind, and does as he understands.
Halachah states that, "If someone prays for rain in the summertime he must repeat Shemonah Esrei again" (Shulchan Aruch 117:3). The explanation is that we are afraid that his prayer for rain may be answered, and thus it might rain in the summertime when rain is a curse. Therefore, he must pray again. This halachah applies to great tzaddikim, and also to very simple, lowly people. Even they must pray again if they prayed for rain, because their prayer may take effect and cause rain in the summertime. This halachah shows us that Hashem listens to everyone's prayer no matter which level they are on. We all have the power of prayer. Reb Chaim Brim zt'l spoke about this, emphasizing that no one should feel that his prayers aren't effective, because if his prayer for rain might be answered, his prayer for health, parnassah, and even for the redemption may be answered too. It is Hashem's desire to listen to the prayers of the Jewish nation. No one is too lowly for Hashem that Hashem will choose not to listen to his prayer.
The Gemara (Makos 24) states that the chachamim saw foxes coming out of the (destroyed) Beis HaMikdash. Foxes are the wisest animal (as stated in Brachos 61). This hints that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of those people who thought that they were wise; wiser than the chachamim.
It is a sin to think that Hashem isn't interested in our prayers.
One form of prayer, also answered by Hashem regardless of the level one is on, is when one prays to Hashem in his own words. As Rebbe Bunim of Peshischa zt'l taught, "One should accustom himself to pray for everything; for the minor things and for the important issues in life. One doesn’t need to go in hisbodidus [seclusion] to do so. As long as the place [where he is] is clean he can pray to Hashem for everything, even in the marketplace. When one becomes accustomed to this practice, he will always be connected to Hashem" (Beis Yaakov Vayeitzah).
The Bnei Yissaschar zt'l says in reference to that tefillah, the Torah says, "Who is a great nation that has G-d near them as Hashem our G-d is near us whenever we call out to him" (Devarim 4:7). "Whenever we call out to Him" indicates that we can call out to Hashem from the midst of our work, as we go about cleaning the home, and as we drive the car. In every situation, one can pray to Hashem, and Hashem will be close to him, to listen to his prayers.
About Shemonah Esrei, halachah states that one must prepare himself before he begins to pray. "One should wait some time before he begins to pray, so he can pray with kavanah. One should wait a moment after the prayer, too, so it shouldn’t appear like the prayer is a burden for him, and he is happy to finish with it. One should pray with fear and humility, and not from laughter, lightheadedness, idle talk, or anger. He should begin his prayer with a simchah shel mitzvah, such as after the comforting words of yetzias Mitzrayim, or after Ashrei, when we say, ... 'Hashem does the will of those who fear Him… Hashem guards all those who love Him…'" (Shulchan Aruch 93:1). The Bnei Yissaschar says that these laws apply to Shemonah Esrei, because then one must prepare his heart and mind. But for when one prays in his own words, "Whenever we call out to Him" one doesn’t have to prepare. Whenever he is inspired to pray, wherever he is, he can do so.
Also, miracles of the opposite nature happened by the sotah, because Rashi (28:5) teaches that if a sotah woman drinks the sotah water in the Beis HaMikdash, but she didn’t sin, than in addition to being saved from punishment, she earns many benefits. As Chazal state, "If she used to give birth with pain, now she will give birth easily; if she used to have girls, now she will have boys; if she used to have black children, now she will have white children; if she used to have short children, now she will give birth to tall children; if she used to give birth every two years, now she will give birth every year; if she used to give birth to one, now she will give birth to twins" (Brachos 31). According to a second opinion, a barren woman would be blessed with the ability to have children, if she goes through the ordeal of the sotah, when innocent. Why does she deserve all these blessings and benefits? Although she should remain alive, because she didn’t sin, she doesn't seem to be deserving of reward. She didn’t act like a tzaddekes. She was suspected for sin for a reason. There was testimony that she was secluded with a man her husband had warned her not to be with. The Beis Yisrael zt'l answered that she was in a situation of a difficult test, and she was strong and refrained from sin; for this she deserves reward. (One shouldn’t purposely place himself in such a position, as she did. Nevertheless, she deserves reward for passing the test.)
Many people wish the day would be longer. There is so much to accomplish, and the day is so short. Is there any way to lengthen the day? There is, by rising early. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the entire day is influenced by how it begins. If one begins the day with alacrity and with avodas Hashem, the entire day will follow in that uplifted spirit. But if he begins the day with laziness, the entire day will be sluggish. In particular, the Baal Shem Tov zt'l taught that one's first thought, speech, and deed of each day should be a mitzvah, because all beginnings influence everything that follows.
The Ahavas Shalom zt'l similarly teaches that one should be cautious to serve Hashem on Rosh Chodesh and on Rosh Hashanah, because they are beginning days, and one hour of properly serving Hashem on these days brings kedushah of Rosh Chodesh/Rosh Hashanah to all the days of the month/year that follow.
Rebbe Yisrael of Rizhin zy'a taught (based on Tehillim 63): If a person will say to Hashem, "You are my G-d" early in the morning, and at that time, he thirsts and pines to have a connection with Hashem, then, even if during the day, due to his work and obligations he is involved in material matters, nevertheless, the spiritual influence from the morning will remain with him throughout the day. Another eis ratzon for tefillah, Rebbe Yehoshua of Belz zy'a said in the name of tzaddikim, is to pray after birchas HaTorah. With birchas haTorah, one accepts the yoke of Torah, to learn and teach it, and this turns the moment into being an auspicious time for prayer. Rebbe Yehoshua of Belz said that one should pray then that he should have success throughout that day, and it will be granted to him. "This is tested and proven" he said.
Rebbe Yitzchak Eizik of Ziditchov zy’a taught that when one rises early, before daybreak, and he pours out his heart before Hashem, his prayers will be as powerful as the prayer of Ne'illah on Yom Kippur.
The Shevet Mussar (27) writes, "One should be zariz and get out of bed quickly to go to the synagogue. He should think, 'If someone would tell me that there’s a fire in the house, wouldn’t I awaken immediately? Even if it's cold, it's raining, sleep is so sweet, but I wouldn’t care. I would immediately jump out of bed and save my life.' Now contemplate this: Even if you would get burned, it would only be your body being burned, and not your soul. All the more so, one shouldn’t be lethargic in the morning. He should rise to serve Hashem, and save his body and soul from Gehinom, from a fire that never extinguishes. He shouldn’t pay attention to the cold, to the sweetness of sleep, and not to anything else…" The Shevet Mussar continues with another counsel: "If you would be sleeping, and a murderer with a drawn sword arrives, wouldn’t you get up immediately and escape? You wouldn’t even take a moment to think it over. Therefore, think this: If you don't awaken early for prayer, the angel of death's sword will be pointed at you, and you will have nowhere to escape to (unlike the sword of man)…" With contemplations such as these, one is able to awaken in the morning, and make the most out of the day.
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (1:4) writes, "Every person who fears Hashem must be strong to overcome the yetzar hara. Don’t listen to him [when he tells you to sleep longer]. Even if it is hard for you, your body is heavy, and you are lazy, focus on doing the will of the King of kings, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Contemplate the following: Suppose you have a business meeting early in the morning, which could earn you a good profit… you would surely be able to rise early because of your desire to earn money. You wouldn’t be lazy. Similarly, if you were called to work for the king, you would also awaken early so there should be no complaints against you and so you would find favor in the king's eyes. Certainly then, to serve the King of kings, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, one should awaken immediately… 'and when you strive to be pure, you are helped from Above' (Shabbos 104)." The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch concludes his counsel with the following invaluable tip: "When one practices [to rise promptly] four or five times, it won't be difficult afterwards." Practice proves that this is true. At first, it’s hard to rise early in the morning. But if one forces himself to rise three, four, or five days in a row, afterwards it is easy for him to rise and to get out of bed. He will then have a longer, and more successful day.
It is written, "a tzaddik falls seven times and gets up, and the wicked stumble into bad" (Mishlei 24:16). These words imply that even tzaddikim fall. The greatness of tzaddikim is that they pick themselves up again. The wicked, on the other hand, fall, and don’t rise up again. The Jewish nation is praised for their ability to rise up again, even after they fall. Chazal say, "Why was the Torah given to the Jewish people? It's because they are the most brazen from all nations… There are three who are brazen: Yisrael is the most brazen among the nations, the dog is the most brazen among animals, and the chicken is the most brazen among birds" (Beitzah 25:). Brazen, in this context means being tenacious, to stick to your principles through thick and thin. Furthermore, brazen means to pick yourself up after you fall, because you refuse to be detached from Hashem. It is due to this trait Hashem gave us the Torah. Hashem knew that if He gives us the Torah, we will keep the Torah forever. This indeed is happening. Klal Yisrael has continued with the exact same Torah for the past three thousand years, without any desire to change its principles. We’ve endured harsh opposition, often our lives were at the stake, and we remained steadfast and loyal to Hashem and to the Torah. The Maharsha, on this Gemara, explains, "The Jewish nation's brazenness doesn’t mean that they are strong, rather it means that they keep to their resolve, and they don’t back down. Testimonial of that is the Gemara which states, 'there are three brazen: Yisrael among the nations, the dog among animals, and the chicken among birds.' Now it is certain that there are animals and birds that are stronger than the dog and the chicken. Obviously, brazen means stubbornness, that they don’t back down." Included in this praise is that even when the yetzer hara does win over them, and draws them to sin, they remain brazenly loyal to Hashem. They don’t allow themselves to despair and to lose hope.
Chazal tell us that a standard term of nazirus is thirty days. A person wanted to be holy, so he made himself a nazir, and for thirty days, he may not become impure, he can't cut off his hair, and he can't drink wine. And then, suddenly, someone dies near him and he becomes impure. He must bring a sin-offering and an olah (two birds) and a korban asham. "The first days [of his nezirus] fall away, because he became impure" (6:12). His attempt to be pure failed. If we try to imagine how it was for the nazir at that time, it was probably a very devastating moment. The Beis Yisrael zt'l compared it to the feelings a person has when he takes on to improve his ways, and then he fails again and again. One has a very negative feeling when that happens. He fears that he will never succeed in avodas Hashem, and he suspects that Hashem isn't accepting his teshuvah because each time he tries, he fails. This might have been the feelings of the nazir who tried to be holy, and against his will becomes impure. The Torah says "The first days of his nezirus fall away" and he must start all over again. He failed the first time, and the Torah requires him to try again. And this is the exact same counsel the Torah gives to all people who fail in their resolves and kabbalos: Don’t give up. Whatever happened happened. Now try again. Perhaps this time you will succeed.
A bachur of the Gerer Yeshiva was at the Kosel one night, when the Gerer Rebbe, the Beis Yisrael zt'l, arrived. The Rebbe came over to him and said, "What is the greatest praise that can be said about Hashem?" Before the bachur thought of an answer, the Rebbe immediately replied, "The greatest praise is that Hashem doesn’t laugh," and then the Rebbe left. The bachur returned to the yeshiva, and asked the Rebbe's brother, the Pnei Menachem zt'l (who was the rosh yeshiva) for an explanation. The Pnei Menachem replied, "When a person says to Hashem time after time that he will improve, Hashem believes him. Hashem doesn’t laugh. Hashem doesn’t say, 'You told me that countless times before, and you didn’t improve yet. Why should I believe you now?' He believes that he is sincere. If I speak with a bachur and tell him that he must improve, and he promises me that he will, I will believe him the first few times he says that. But if he repeatedly doesn’t change his ways, and each time he promises I never see improvement, I will not trust him anymore. When he tells me, 'This time I am sincere in my resolve to improve my ways,' I will laugh at him. But we can tell Hashem every day —even several times a day — that we will improve our ways and Hashem never laughs. He doesn’t suspect that we aren't sincere, and that is Hashem's great praise.”
One should keep trying to improve, despite the failures of the past. It is written, "Don’t believe in yourself until the day you die" (Avos 2:4). The Ra'v Bartunara explains, "Behold Yochanan was a [righteous] cohen gadol for eighty years, and in the end he became a tzadduki (Brachos 29.)." This means no one's future is guaranteed, and therefore everyone must be cautious. The Rebbe of Kotzk zt'l said that we should learn from this that a wicked person should never lose hope of improving his ways. If even a tzaddik might change and become a wicked person, a wicked person can certainly change and become a tzaddik.
The Tana d'Bei Eliyahu (Rabba 22:7) states, "Even if a person did a hundred sins, one worse than the next, and he does teshuvah, I will deal compassionately with him, and I will accept his teshuvah. And even if a person will stand up and speak chutzpadig on Hashem and then does teshuvah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu will forgive him for everything."
"Despite of how lowly I am, I am connected to Hashem, and He is waiting for me to do teshuvah. Hashem will respond, that He will redeem him and raise him from his lowly level.
When one is marking a test, he makes s and x s. The difference between them is that a check goes down, and then it goes back up again. In fact, it will go up higher than it originally went down. An x goes down from both sides, and doesn't go up again. This hints that success is falling and rising again (and then one reaches even higher levels). Failure is falling and remaining in that state.
The process of improving entails many ups and downs. There will be many times when one will be upset with himself because of his faults and sins. This broken heart can also be beneficial, as it brings abundance and blessings to the world.
The Chovas HaLevavos (Shaar HaTeshuvah 8) discusses the baal teshuvah, and his level compared to a tzaddik who never sinned. (In this context, the baal teshuvah is a religious Jew who committed some sin and repented.) The Chovas HaLevavos writes, "There are baalei teshuvah on the same level as a tzaddik (who never sinned), there are baalei teshuvah who are on a higher level, and there are baalei teshuvah who are on a lower level… The baal teshuvah that is greater than the tzaddik is the baal teshuvah who had previously committed a minor sin that doesn’t have kares. Afterwards, he does perfect teshuvah in all its details. [Nevertheless] he doesn’t forget the sin, and he continually asks Hashem for forgiveness. He is embarrassed before the Creator, and his heart is afraid from the punishment. His heart is broken... So, it was sin that brought him to humility and to desire to pay up all his debts to his Creator... For the rest of his life he will be cautious never to sin again. This baal teshuvah has a benefit over the tzaddik who never sinned at all, because that tzaddik might become arrogant due to his good deeds. As the saying goes, 'An sin can help the baal teshuvah more than all the good deeds that he performed, while a righteous deed can harm a tzaddik more than all the sins of the baal teshuvah.' This is when the good deeds bring [the tzaddik to]… haughtiness… and to seek praise. A tzaddik said to his students, 'If you wouldn’t have any sins at all, I would worry about you that you shouldn’t come to something that's worse than sins.' "They asked, 'What’s worse than sins?' "He replied, arrogance and flattery [when one pretends to be a tzaddik, to earn people's praise].'” The Chovas HaLevavos concludes that about this baal teshuvah, Chazal say, “The place where baalei teshuvah stand, the greatest tzaddikim can't stand” (Brachos 34:).
Once, on the yahrtzeit of Rebbe Aharon of Karlin zt'l, his grandson and successor, the Beis Aharon zt'l, stood at the amud, with a broken heart, as he considered himself unworthy of such a high position. He moaned, "What connection do I have with my holy grandfather? I am empty…" He was silent for a few moments, and then he said, "But nevertheless, I am a grandson, and I will pray liluy nishmoso." The Beis Aharon's grandson, Rebbe Avraham Elimelech zt'l, explained that this is how one should pray before Hashem. Humility on one side, but at the same time one has to be strong, to stand up and say, "I am the son of the King, and I can pray to Hashem."