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Shabbat Parashat Naso 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: Nazir Yes, No, Sometimes

Harav Shaul Yisraeli - from Siach Shaul, pp. 365-6

The matter of nazir, one who vows to abstain from grape products, hair cutting, (and, for regular nezirut) coming in contact with the dead, is one of the noteworthy elements of our parasha, especially because of the diverse approaches to it.

The Torah does not bind one to the restrictions of a nazir automatically and does not instruct a person to accept it upon himself. Yet the Torah has several hints at a very positive outlook on the practice. First, the Torah describes the process of making oneself a nazir as being “for Hashem” (Bamidbar 6:2). He is then described, during his nezirut, as being “holy to Hashem” (ibid. 8). As the Seforno expounds: “He merited having the light of life and being ready to understand and teach, as is fit for the holy people of the generation.” This is in line with the Ramban’s explanation of the sin-offering that a nazir brings after his nezirut. The Ramban says that he is a sinner, in that he had experienced the sanctity of the service of Hashem of a nazir and should have continued that state forever. When he returns to the world of physical desires, he needs atonement.

However, the Talmud does prominently cite the very different approach of Rabbi Elazar Hakapar, who says that the nazir’s sin is causing himself pain by preventing himself from drinking wine (Ta’anit 11a). The Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:1) says: “It is not enough for you what the Torah prohibited that you forbid yourself in other things?” The Rambam writes that he had not heard a more wonderful idea than this.

There is somewhat of a compromise approach in Chazal, which Rashi cites in our parasha. The discussion of the nazir follows the discussion of the woman who is suspected of infidelity to her husband. The gemara (Nedarim 9b) says that when a person is exposed to such a negative influence that pushes him in the direction of illicit relations, it is the correct time to make an oath of nezirut. It then tells an interesting story of one whose evil inclination independently was starting to get aroused, and he decided to become a nazir in order to temper it. Rabbi Shimon Hatzaddik, who was generally critical of nezirut, was highly impressed and said: “My son, may there be many nezirim like you in Israel.”

The lesson from that gemara is that nezirut is not appropriate for all, and it is not only unnecessary but harmful under normal circumstances. It is sinful to deprive oneself when there is no need. However, it is necessary and effective as a measure for emergencies, whether the evil inclination is aroused by what it sees within society or individually. We learn this concept from Shimshon (discussed in the haftara) as well. He had a stormy life of ups and downs and was endowed with great bravery but strong desires. That background helps us understand the Divine guidance that decreed that he should be a nazir, with the hope that it would help him survive spiritually as a non-traditional Jewish savior at one of the most difficult times of the period of the Judges.

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