Thursday, March 06, 2014

see no evil, hear no evil

The Netziv brings an amazing Tosefta on the pasuk, “V’nefesh ki techetah v’sham’ah kol alah… im lo yagid v’nasa avono.” (5:1)  Lichorah the first phrases should be reversed.  A person needs to first hear a shevu’ah and decide to ignore it and then he becomes a choteih.  Why does the Torah put the “v’nefesh ki tachetah” first and only then say what the person did wrong?

 רבי אלעזר בן מתיא אומר אין אדם מתחייב אא"כ חטא שנא' (שם) נפש כי תחטא ושמעה

Before the person actually decided not to testify, he had to witness something worth coming to court to testify about.  The circumstance of “v’sham’ah ko alah” had to arise and present itself.  That, says the Netziv, did not happen by chance.  The Tosefta (Shavuos 3:3, see the Netziv’s girsa changes) explains that what a person hears and sees is dictated by Hashem.   It’s only because the person already was guilty of wrongdoing that Hashem put him in the difficult situation of “v’sham’ah kol alah,” of seeing something that would force him to have to serve as a witness. 

Chazal say that someone who sees the sotah disgraced should take a vow of nezirus.  Everybody asks: Isn’t it the guy who *doesn’t* see what happens to the sotah and is not shocked who needs nezirus?  The guy who sees the sotah already got the message?!  In light of the Netziv the answer perhaps is that the very fact that the person witnessed such a terrible thing proves that he has work to do on himself. 

The Netziv doesn’t say it, but maybe with his pshat we can answer another question the meforshim ask.  Why does the pasuk end, “v’nasa avono?”  The word “avon” means deliberate crime.  The pasuk, however, is talking about someone who is a shogeg?  Perhaps “avon” is not referring to the mistake of the shevuas ha’eidus mentioned in the pasuk, but rather to the wrongdoing that precipitated the person being put in the shevu’ah situation to begin with. 

When you turn on the internet, radio, TV, newspapers, etc. and see or hear all the tragedies out there, yes, you can say, “Baruch Hashem – it’s not me!” but the truth is that it is us.  The very fact that we are seeing or hearing such things is a wakeup call.   

Maybe it’s the approach of Purim that made me think of the connection to what we say on Yom Ki-Purim.  In musaf, when we describe the avodah of the Kohen gadol, we say the piyut of “emes mah nehedar” and we say “ashrei ayin…,” how fortunate were the eyes able to see such a beautiful sight.  The Tosefta quoted by the Netziv ends on a positive note:
וכן היה ר' אלעזר בן מתיא אומר מתחייב לראות הרואה עושי מצוה זכה לראות.

Maybe we are not speaking about seeing the avodah itself when we say “ashrei ayin,” but rather seeing the the avodah is a siman that, “ashrei ayin,” the person who was zocheh to witness that sight must indeed have kadosh and tahor eyes, and is so very fortunate.

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