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The Four Minute Mile

Any man whose wife shall go astray and commit treachery against him (5:12)

The “Sota” described in this verse is referring to a married woman who is warned in front of witnesses not to be alone with a certain person whom she is subsequently witnessed to be alone with. In order to save their marriage, Hashem allowed the couple to travel to the Beis Hamikdash so that His name can be erased in water for the sake of a test of innocence if the woman chooses. If the woman did not commit immorality she will receive blessings, but if she did, the water will cause her (and the man she had an affair with) to die. 

The Gemora tells us that the reason why the Parsha of Nazir is placed next to the Parsha of Sota is “to teach us that anyone who sees a Sota in her disgrace should take upon themselves a vow from wine.”[1] Rashi explains that one should do this because in general, wine leads to such behaviour, so as a safeguard from frivolity for the one witnessing the Sota, they should abstain from wine.

This is difficult to understand. Imagine if we witnessed the ground opening up and swallowing alive anyone who broke Shabbos; would we need to accept upon ourselves extra precautions regarding Shabbos? One would have thought that the memory of such a punishment would be enough to keep us well away from any hint of Shabbos desecration. If so, why would specifically those who witnessed the Sota need to ban themselves from wine?

The Baalei Mussar suggest that even though one may have seen the punishment of this Sota, they also saw a real person who did and real act, and however disgusted they are with them and what they did, they saw that the act was possible, and this is enough to make a dangerous impact on their minds.

To a certain degree, we see this concept in everyday life. A great example is the famed “Four minute mile” which was finally broken in 1954. There are records dating back from the 1700s of people trying to break this record, but no one ever did. However, just two months after mile was run in under four minutes, it was done again, twice. Within a few years, it was broken many times, and a few years later it was broken 135 times by one man. It seems that the whole time the four minute mile was not broken, no one was capable of breaking it, but once people saw that it was possible, they suddenly became capable. In the same way, we are suggesting that once the people saw a Sota, to a degree, such an act became possible in their eyes, thus requiring the extra safeguard.

The lesson for us is that we need to be very careful about the environment we are in, the people we interact with and the things we see. Even though we may feel far removed from the terrible things that go on around us, if we don’t make special effort to enforce our barriers, regardless of our initial repulsion, we could become affected and our standards will become significantly lowered.

[1] Sota 2a

Rabbi Moshe Kormornick, is the best selling author of SHORT VORT, available in Jewish bookstores worldwide, as well as at Feldheim.com and on amazon. 

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