I have to begin with something personal. The Australian media once called me “the rabbi of tolerance”. Unfortunately it is not entirely true, because there are some things for which I have never been able to summon any tolerance. I can’t tolerate stupidity, injustice or inefficiency, and I don’t even try.
I could explain my aversion to all three things in detail, but for the moment let me stick to stupidity.
One aspect of my distaste for stupid things is linked with this week’s Torah portion. There is a verse which, dealing with the wife suspected of infidelity, begins, “If a man’s wife goes astray…” (Num. 5:12).
The sages expand the discussion by saying that no-one ever goes astray in any way unless a spirit of stupidity enters them (Sotah 3a). In other words, what makes a person sin is that a mood of stupidity has caught hold of them. From the theological point of view the sages seem to be saying that people are inherently good and no-one would ever deliberately or defiantly commit a sin.
It’s a remarkably positive description of human nature, though other statements seem to contradict it – think only of the categories of sin enunciated in the Yom Kippur prayers.
For our purposes we need to know how the idea links up with the suspected adulteress. Is it just the similarity of sound between the Hebrew for “going astray” and “foolishness”?
It’s probably much more. Compromising a marriage is not worth it in the long run: it may bring pleasure for the moment but objectively it is foolish. On a broader canvas, if a person goes astray from God and commits spiritual adultery it is also rather stupid.
So we can say that in the view of the rabbis, sin is stupidity. Can we also say that stupidity is sin?