• Robert Portnoe

Where Are We?

Updated: May 21

Parshat Naso 5781


To the memory of Alex Krause: Refael Aaron ben Shlomo Chaim Hakohen v’Rivkah

Shabbat Shalom.



Parashat Nasso contains the story of the Sota, a woman suspected by her husband of infidelity.

The gemara in Sota 1a begins with a basic issue about the appropriateness of going down the path of the Sota Rite. The language of the Mishnah seems to indicate that the sota procedure is not an optimal situation and one should avoid it. The process is dependent upon issuing a warning and one should refrain from issuing such a warning. The gemara, before discussing the rules related to a warning, takes a brief tangent into the manner in which Reish Lakish would introduce the entire discussion of the sota.


Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzĥak says: When Reish Lakish would introduce his discussion of the Torah passage of Sota he would say this: Heaven matches a woman to a man only according to his actions, as it is stated: “For the rod of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous” (Psalms 125:3), indicating that if one has a wicked wife it is due to his own evil conduct.


There are several approaches that one could take when events that involve others impact our own lives in a way that is difficult. We can view ourselves as the victims. You could make a case that Adam Harishon did exactly that when God confronted him in the Garden of Eden after he ate the fruit. Adam looks for someone upon whom he can place the blame. He casts a very wide net,

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הָֽאָדָ֑ם הָֽאִשָּׁה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נָתַ֣תָּה עִמָּדִ֔י הִ֛וא נָֽתְנָה־לִּ֥י מִן־הָעֵ֖ץ וָאֹכֵֽל׃

The man said, “The woman You put at my side—she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

He blames Eve; he blames God. Is his own statement that he ate a plea that it wasn’t his fault in light of those he blamed earlier or is it an admission that in the end he needs to accept responsibility? It is ambiguous.

Eve follows Adam’s lead with one critical distinction. Eve too looks for someone to blame, but she doesn’t point the finger back at Adam. Were his instructions flawed? Where was he when she needed him? Eve preserves the relationship. But she too, after blaming the snake, admits, “I ate.”

Reish Lakish’s approach is different. I believe he says to look inward. Look at what you can do to change the situation. He too follows a path from the Garden of Eden. In fact, it was the path that God was trying to open up for Adam. God begins the discussion with Adam by asking, “איכה?” Where are you? You! Don’t look around at others. Start inward and see what else you have done. What led the Sota woman to look elsewhere? Start with that which is in your power to change.

The Sota’s behavior is a response to how she is feeling. Yes, she is responsible for her “suspected” actions, but maybe you are also at fault.

The proof text chosen is rather interesting. “The rod of the wicked shall not rest on the righteous.”

Isn’t it arrogant to presuppose ourselves to be righteous? Maybe we don’t have to assume that we are righteous, but we only need to aspire to be. As we find in the gemarra in Kiddushin 49b:


If one says to a woman: Be betrothed to me on the condition that I am a righteous man, then even if he was a completely wicked man she is betrothed, as perhaps in the meantime he had thoughts of repentance in his mind and is now righteous.


If the wicked person doesn’t have power over the righteous, then the events that happen to us are really events prepared by God. As such they constitute an opportunity to ask, “Where are we?”


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