The gemara Nazir 2a quotes a baraisa saying that

כל הרואה סוטה בקלקולה יזיר עצמו מן היין

Anyone who sees a sota in her disgrace (would/should) swear off wine.

The word יזיר, as I understand it could just as well express "would swear off..." or "should swear off..." Artscroll indicates the grammatical mode of this line, quoted in Rash"i's commentary on B'midbar 6:2, as "should". It is also translated as such in the opening lines of the Artscroll g'mara in both masechtos Nazir and Sota. However, one footnote in Artscroll's elucidation on Nazir 2 takes for granted that it means "would want to..."

Is the quoted baraisa giving a prescription to those who witness the unfortunate plight of the sota or is it describing the instinctive reaction one is likely to have upon seeing the same?

NOTE: I always understood it as "would", as that would fit with the fact that this is quoted as an answer to the question "why are these topics juxtaposed?" I see now that "should" would fit almost as well, but I am not convinced and I'm really not sure how to prove one way or the other without external evidence.

  • The word "Yazir" has the root "zar" meaning "strange". The yod at the beginning is future tense in Hebrew. I'm not sure how Artscroll gets the meaning "swear off". I have to look at Rashi's explanation further to get a better sense of how "swearing" emanates from the shoresh (root) of "zar". – DanF Jul 2 '14 at 20:04
  • To clarify, I made up "swear off". The question is only about the mode of the imperfect י in this case, not the lexical value of the root ז.ר. – WAF Jul 2 '14 at 20:09
  • Got it. Thanks for that clarification. Still have to research. – DanF Jul 2 '14 at 20:17
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    @DanF That's not the Shoresh. It's N.Z.R. The N drops off in Hifil and becomes a Dagesh in the Z. – Double AA Jul 2 '14 at 20:25
  • @DoubleAA - thanks for the correction. "Modern" shorashim are 3 (occasionally 4) letters. Rashi often mentions 2-letter shorashim (don't know if he does in this pasuk about nazir.) I'm uncertain where Rashi got the 2-letter shoresh from. It's possible that Hebrew shoresh forms have changed since then. – DanF Jul 2 '14 at 20:53

Tol'dos Yitzchak (by Rabbi Yitzchak Karo, uncle of the Bes Yosef) has two explanations:

"to tell you whoever sees a sota in her detriment…": its explanation is as a way of a command: he's obliged to swear off of wine, in his seeing her death due to the drinking of wine….

And it is also natural: … "whoever sees a sota in her detriment…": that when he sees such great filth — a thigh falling in the street, a belly swelling, her body in pieces — the desire for women will be annulled in him and he will, of his own accord, swear off of wine when he sees that it is a bottle full of excrement….

Tora T'mima (Bamidbar 6:1) explains the g'mara as meaning that

…and when they heard the detriment that comes through wine, many would swear off of wine….

And there's a story in Otzar Chayim (compiled by Rabbi Chayim Yaakov Zuckerman; at Bamidbar 6:2) in which Rabbi David Forkes (a student of the Baal Shem Tov) understood it as prescriptive.

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