Nitzavim 5778


Lessons learned from a drunkard

ותראו את שקוציהם ואת גלליהם עץ ואבן כסף וזהב אשר עמהם (דברים כט:טז)

And you saw their abomination and their detestable idols, of wood and stone,
of silver and gold, that were with them (Devarim 29:16)

Moshe Rabbeinu is explaining why Hashem wanted Bnei Yisrael to forge a covenant with Him. Since we have seen the nations worship idols, there is a concern that we might have been influenced to follow their ways. Therefore, we needed to take an oath to ensure we don’t get ensnared by the idols’ draw.
Among the list of idols described in the Torah, some are referred to as “abominations” and “detestable.” It seems that even though our understanding and perception of them is one of disgust, there is still a concern that they will have a bad influence on us. This is hard to understand. If we are disgusted by the idols, why would we gravitate towards them?
There is a similar idea in Parshas Naso. The Gemara (Brachos 63a) says that the juxtaposition of Sotah to Nazir teaches that someone who sees a Sotah getting punished in the manner described in the Torah should accept upon himself a prohibition of drinking wine. This is a precaution to make sure he does not imitate the immoral ways of the Sotah. Logic, however, would dictate just the opposite. The one who witnessed the terrible punishment given to the Sotah would surely be extremely cautious to not end up in that same predicament! Why is he, of all people, the one who needs to guard himself even more?
The Baalei Mussar explain that this is an important lesson. Just seeing and coming into contact with sin is very dangerous. It is true that we see everything that there is to despise with a Sotah or the idols. But, at the same time, we are also seeing the sin. Even this “run-in” with sin can be very dangerous.
The late Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein explained this concept further. Midrash Tanchuma (end of Shemini) cites the following story: There was once a pious and learned man whose father was a complete drunkard. It happened once on a rainy day that while the son was walking in the street on the way to Shul, he observed a sad sight. There was a drunkard lying in the street with the rainwater flowing over him. Children were hitting him with rocks and throwing dirt on his face and in his mouth. The pious son thought to himself that this would be a wonderful opportunity for his father to see the potential pitfalls of being a drunkard, and how disgraceful he can end up. He went to fetch his father and show him the sight.
When his father arrived, he walked over to the drunkard and asked him at which tavern he found such good wine.
The son was incredulous! He told his father that that wasn’t his intention in bringing him there. The father answered that wine is the only thing that gives him enjoyment, and the pious son walked away understandably very disappointed.
This story teaches an important lesson in understanding human nature. Instead of seeing the obvious disgrace and pity in the situation, the drunkard learns from it how to be a bigger drunk. If it is possible to reach such a level of drunkenness, it proves the quality of the wine the person drank, and he just wants to know where to attain such wine.
The situation is paralleled with the Sotah. Instead of seeing the terrible disgusting punishment, the individual sees the sin, and this “contact” with sin is a serious danger to him. He therefore needs to stay on guard and is encouraged to become a Nazir and refrain from wine. The same is with the idols. It is true that they seem to be detestable, but the inherent danger still exists. Even these idols necessitate forging a covenant.
This Pasuk also reveals another point. The idols are described as abominations and detestable, wood and stone, silver and gold. Rav Leib Chasman explains that when a person first notices them, they appear to him as abominations. Upon further observation, they are already not so terrible. True, they are not amazing, but it is similar to wood and stone. And when he continues to look, they already seem as good as silver and gold.
We must distance ourselves from all such negative influences. 


The recent alert regarding a local brewery using oysters in their production points out the level of Kashrus supervision that exists today. Earlier in American in history, when there was no formal supervision, confusion often reigned.
One example of this is Coca-Cola, and the protagonist of the story is Rabbi Tuvia Geffen. Born in Kovno in 1870, in 1898 he married the sister of Rav Chaim Telzer. Due to pogroms in Europe, in 1903 the Geffens immigrated to New York. They ended up in Atlanta in 1910, where Rav Tuvia became the Rav of Shearith Isreal for 60 years. He is best known for his Coca-Cola teshuva which he wrote in 1935, but his correspondence on the subject goes back to 1925.
The main plant of Coca-Cola (C.C.) was in Atlanta, and a Rabbi from Pittsburgh wrote to Rabbi Geffen: “many of the people are drinking C.C. without proper rabbinic certification and claiming that it is kosher. Please clarify this matter.” There is also a letter from 1927 claiming that C.C. contained glycerin. Glycerin is a byproduct of making soap from the unused parts of animals, and is widely used in the food industry.
Rabbi Geffen’s daughter, who was majoring in food chemistry, analyzed some C.C. and found a small amount of glycerin, and the chief chemist of Georgia confirmed that it was of animal origin.
A letter from Memphis dated May 1932 makes reference to the fact that Rabbi Geffen had inspected the C.C. plant and that C.C. contained glycerin. (Rabbi Geffen saved letters sent to him but not copies of his responses.)
The problem with all of this was that there was a prominent Rav in Chicago, Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Pardes, who claimed that C.C. was indeed kosher. Rabbi Pardes was the editor of the Torah Journal HaPardes. In the December 1930 issue, he wrote an article titled, המשקה הלאומי באמעריקה, the American National Drink, where he states that C.C. is unequivocally kosher; it was inspected by chemists and found to contain no non-kosher ingredients.
In the next issue, January 1931, Rabbi Pardes published a Yiddish advertisement for C.C., which included this addendum: “I have investigated… the C.C. factory. This drink is made of all natural ingredients and is worthy of being served at the table of Rabbis.”
In the March 1931 issue there was another ad for C.C., but with a slightly different statement. There Rabbi Pardes states that C.C. is kosher to drink according to Halacha, כשר לשתות ע”פ דין. Why the change in wording? The answer might lie in a 1931 letter from Rabbi Pardes to Rabbi Geffen. He wrote that he could not imagine that the C.C. plant in Chicago included different ingredients than the plant in Atlanta, but he would travel to Atlanta to investigate the plant himself. He concluded, “I wrote to all the Rabbis who give kosher supervision to C.C. advising them of this problem.” (Next week iy”H we will see how this explains the change in wording.)
How did Rabbi Geffen deal with this issue? In his Teshuva, he explains that the glycerin was found in very minute proportions, in a ratio of 1 to 1000. “At first glance, because of this amount, there appears to be no question whatsoever… because of the principle of batel beshishim: a mixture of forbidden and permitted elements is sanctioned for use when the ratio is 1 to 60, even more so when it is 1 to 1000, as in the case of C.C. In actuality this matter is not as clear-cut as would appear.”
He cites a Rashba quoted by the Beis Yosef (Y.D. 134), who discusses a medicinal drink made by non-Jews from their vinegar mixed with honey. Even though it is a minute amount, since it is one of the initial and essential ingredients in the mixture, it is not batel beshishim.
Rabbi Geffen wrote: “When the mixing was accidental and unpremeditated, we do not prohibit its use unless there is noticeable taste of the forbidden ingredient. In our situation, however, this is done by company employees who add the glycerin daily to maintain the proper ratio. Under such circumstances, the glycerin can never lose its identity.”
Rabbi Geffen notes that the Noda B’Yehuda (Y.D., M,T.56) cites opinions who disagree with the Rashba, but he questions how one can decide between such greats.
To solve this dilemma, he got the company to agree to switch to a vegetable glycerin, produced by Proctor and Gamble, who would supply affidavits verifying that the glycerin was derived from vegetable sources.
Stay tuned next week for the rest of the story.