Judaism: The Lessons of the Nazarite

Is it advisable to distance oneself from all pitfalls?
Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:23 AM


We are living in times wherein history is unfolding in biblical proportions. A people battered and broken come together and build a nation like skeletons being recovered with sinews and flesh. A people dispersed and spread out throughout the world are gathered together from the four corners of the earth. If one wants to know what G-d had said happened and what He says will happen, one simply needs to open the Tanach (Bible).

Yet if one wants to know what G-d is doing today one simply needs to open the newspaper, He will be found in every headline. Yet these events happening are a mixture of light and darkness, purity and prideful arrogance. There are those who prefer not to get involved so as not to sully their “pure” soul and intentions. Is that understandable or is that sinful?

The Torah portion of Nassoh introduces the concept of the man or woman who take upon themselves the Nazirite vow.

“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them: A man or woman who sets himself apart by making a Nazirite vow to abstain for the sake of Hashem.(Numbers 6:1-2).

This vow involves the abstinence from wine grapes or raisins and from or any fermented drink, Furthermore the Nazirite was not to cut his hair for the length of the vow. Finally the one taking upon themselves avoided contact with death and dead bodies including those of their relatives.

We can understand that since this vow was taken to come closer to Hashem and to act “for the sake of Hashem” the thought behind the avoidance of contact with death. Such contact singes the soul. The avoidance of cutting one’s hair is a lesson on focusing inwards and minimizing the focus on external appearance. The abstinence from wine needs to be understood especially since it is the wine that we use to sanctify the Shabbat and other events that increase holiness in our lives. It is the wine we use to libate the altar. Why does the Nazirite need to abstain from that specific beverage?

Simply put, wine can lead to sin.

The verses just prior to this section deals with the chapter of the wanton woman.

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: Should any man's wife go astray and deal treacherously with him, ( Numbers 5:11-12)

The final verses regarding this unfortunate event describe a very painful and dramatic ceremony;

“Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before Hashem and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousies, while the bitter curse bearing waters are in the kohen's hand.(ibid:18).

Rashi tells us “Why does the Torah section dealing with the laws of the nazir follow immediately after the section dealing with the laws of the sotah? To tell you that whoever sees a sotah's ruin should forswear wine.

The man was so pained and upset at what he witnessed as the folly of drunkenness that he assumed that abstinence for wine would make him holy.

Yet at the end of his or her successful term of Nazirite abstinence we read the following

“This is the law of the nazirite: On the day his period of naziriteship is completed, he shall present himself at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.. He shall bring his offering to Hashem: one unblemished lamb in its first year as a burnt offering, one unblemished ewe lamb in its first year as a sin offering, and one unblemished ram as a peace offering,” (Numbers 6: 13-14)

Here was a man who yearned to become more sanctified by separating himself from the things that could lead him away from G-d .Yet he brings a sin offering.

What was his sin?

Maimonides offers the view “that a person should not say to himself:“Since material desires lead a person to sin, I will avoid these physical pleasures ” and that a person should only withdraw from those things that the Torah itself explicitly forbids .The sin-offering is brought because he  has sinned by separating from the world and  forbidding upon himself that which the Torah has permitted.

When we sanctify the Shabbat, a festival or a wedding we make a blessing over wine. Yet as we have said, wine can lead us to sin and drunkenness. Wouldn’t it not be more advisable to avoid the pitfalls of wine?

Yet the greatest sanctification of G-d’ s name is to actually take the thing that might move us away from G-d and seize it back towards G-d. That becomes the ultimate sanctification of G-d.

Our role in these tumultuous times is to seize the moment and become involved. Now is the time to begin the process of Aliyah because every Jew who lives outside unintentionally becomes a desecration of Hashem’s name ( G-d forbid). “but for the sake of My Holy Name that you have desecrated among the nations. And I will sanctify My great Name that is desecrated among the nations, and the nations will know that I am G-d, says Hashem Elokim. And I will take you from the nations and I will gather you from all the lands and I will bring you to your Land.”( Ezekiel 36:20).

The Nazirite wanted to remain holy and secure and therefore he wanted to separate from the world. G-d does not want us to separate from the world. He wants us to elevate it.

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved