This week's parsha
The Antidote to Stupidity
“Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped”
-- Elbert Hubbard
In the holy city of Safed, next to the old cemetery, sits a humble structure, known as the “Arizal’s mikvah.” The small building houses a ritual bath which, according to tradition, was used by the master kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–1572, known as the “Arizal”), who would immerse himself in its waters before praying and studying.
The mikvah (ritual pool) is actually an underground stream; its waters are ice cold. But considering the mikvah’s illustrious history, many consider it a special privilege to brave the cold. In fact, tradition has it that anyone who dips in its waters will certainly repent before passing on.
So, the story is told of a father who takes his son before his bar mitzvah to dip in the frigid waters. The son enters the water and screams, “Ay! This is cold.”
He quickly immerses and jumps out, straight into the warm towel his father is holding in his extended hands. “Aaaah!” said the boy, “this feels good!”
Said the father to his about-to-become-a-man son: “May this be a lesson for the rest of your life. Whenever you do something, and the ‘ay’ comes before the ‘ah,’ you know that it is a good thing that you’ve done. When the ‘ah,’ however, comes before the ‘ay,’ then you know that you have done something wrong . . .”
I was reminded of this story when reading the section of the Torah that discusses the woman suspected of having been unfaithful to her husband -- the sotah. The word the Torah chooses (Numbers 5:12) to describe her alleged disloyalty is tisteh, [a woman who has] “gone astray.”
Tisteh can also translate as “becomes foolish.” Hence the Talmudic axiom: “A person does not sin unless overcome by a spirit of folly.”
Sin is foolish. We all know it. No one ever feels good after a sin (psycho-maniacs aside), and no one feels bad after doing a mitzvah.
But we sin anyway. Then we feel guilty, then we sin again, then we go to the synagogue on Yom Kippur and promise to better ourselves. Then we sin again.
No, I am not writing a book titled 10 Ideas How to Never Sin Again, nor have I discovered the magic pill that kills the evil inclination within. And if anyone claims to have found the vaccine against temptation, lock him up in an asylum -- before he proclaims himself a god and goes off to build a cult and exploit a bunch of misguided people.
Until Moshiach comes, when evil will be eradicated from the world for good, we will continue to be tempted by sin. Hey, just another reason to ask G‑d to send Moshiach.
But maybe, just maybe, if we take the story of the mikvah to heart, and next time we are about to say “ah” before the “ay,” we think ahead -- we might refrain from sin that one time.
And that is a very big deal.
Or, as our sages succinctly put it: “Who is a wise one? One who foresees the outcome [of his actions].”