In honor of the Daf Yomi Learners, who are finishing Masechet Nazir, and everyone else who is starting Sefer Vayikra this week, I'd like to share an interesting insight that connects the two topics.
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, Nassoh,10:11) makes a fascinating comparison between a Nazir (Nazzareth) and a Kohen Gadol (high priest):
"לפי שמזיר את עצמו מן היין ונוהג צער בעצמו שלא יגלח ראשו כדי לשמור עצמו מן העבירה אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא הרי הוא חשוב לפני ככהן גדול
מה כהן אסור ליטמא לכל המתים אף נזיר אסור ליטמא לכל המתים
מה בכהן גדול כתיב כי נזר שמן משחת אלהיו עליו אף בנזיר הוא אומר כי נזר אלהיו על ראשו
מה בכהן כתיב ויבדל אהרן להקדישו קדש קדשים אף נזיר נקרא קדוש שנא' כל ימי נזרו קדוש הוא לה'"
This who refrains from drinking wine and doesn't shave his hair and stays away from Aveirot - Hashem says that he is considered and important as a Kohen Gadol.
The same way a Kohen Gadol may not touch an impure corpse, same as a Nazir is prohibited to touch one.
The same way a Kohen Gadol has a crown on his head (the golden "Tzitz"), a Nazir has a crown on his head (his hair).
The same way A Kohen is separated to be holy in G-d's name sake, the same way a Nazir is holy in G-d's name sake.
Let's try and figure out the details of the similarities the two have, and explain the meaning of all of this. We will see that the concept of a Nazir in the Torah is very different than in other religions.
Parallel laws between the Nazir and a Kohen Gadol
Someone who vows to become a Nazir has three restrictions, all which have similarity to the restrictions of a Kohen Gadol:
1. No "Lehitame Lameitim" (Bamidbar 6:7) . A Nazir is not allowed to become impure from the dead, even to his close family members. This is just like a Kohen Gadol (Vayikra 21:11). (A regular Kohen is not allowed to "Lehitame Lameitim", but permitted when it is close family members).
We can surely understand why a Kohen Gadol must be pure, he needs to enter the Mikdash and work there for the sake of the nation! But why does the Nazir need to be pure?
2. The second law- No drinking wine. A Nazir is forbidden to have any grapes or wine (Bamidbar 6:3). This reminds us of a similar prohibition of a Kohen to drink while working and entering the Mikdash (Vayikra 10:9).
We can surely understand why a Kohen cannot drink while entering the Mikdash and working, this would interfere with his worship which requires complete sobriety, but why can't a Nazir have wine? It is also problematic to explain that a Nazir must remove himself from the physical world because he is allowed to have meat and is not commanded to be "Parush" from sexual relations with his wife. So why do they share a common prohibition?
3. A Nazir may not cut or trim his hair (Bamidbar, 6:5). A Kohen Gadol is not allowed to grow his hair for more than thirty consecutive days (Bamidbar 6:10). A Nazir on the other hand must grow his hair. This seems to be the opposite!
What is the significance of this difference and what can we learn from all of these comparisons?
A "walking" Mikdash
It seems that a Nazir is actually an "artificial" (by vow) personalized Kohen Gadol.
His prohibition to "Lehitame Lameitim" comes from the fact that he himself is holy. Unlike the regular person who cannot enter the Mikdash impure, the Nazir must always be on "alert" as if he himself is a "walking mikdash". Unlike a regular person who will bring a Korban if entering the Mikdash in a state of "Tumah", a Nazir will bring a Korban just by being "Tammeh" wherever he is. This is the great power of his vow: He is not born as a Kohen but elevates himself up to have the same restrictions and obligations as a Kohen.
His prohibition to drink wine comes from this same perspective: He must always be sober just like a Kohen who is entering and working in the Mikdash. The Rashar Hirsch (Bamidbar 6:3) explains, that he must always be available for questions of Jewish law and Torah studying, therefore he mustn't drink, because law cannot be taught under the influence of alcohol. Apparently, this prohibition is not in order to have the Nazir suffer but merely to help him reach higher spiritual achievements such as prophecy.
And what about the hair issue?
The Nazirs hair is actually described as a crown- "Nezer elohav al rosho" (Bamidbar 6:7), and is even burnt in the Mikdash after shaving when his oath is finished (6:18). Rashi (Shir Hashirim 7:6) even goes as far as saying that the name of Hashem and the Kdusha is inside a Nazirs curls. In a fascinating way, we find that a Kohen Gadol also has a crown with Hashem's name- this is the "tzitz" also called a crown with Hashem's name (Vayikra 21:11, Shemot 29:6). Rashar Hirsch (Bamidbar 6:7) also shows the similarity between the two.
It seems that the Nazir succeeds (and is commanded to keep this level) to create a "personalized" Kedusha in his private life. This is a bit "wild" just like the hair grows in a wild way. On the other hand, a Kohen Gadol is born a Kohen and he maintains his spirituality and holiness in a more "organized" type of way and must trim his hair.
In other religions the character of a Nazirite is very different. They go to caves by themselves in order to meditate, completely disconnected from this world, without a family and sexual relations, and purposely trying to:"suffer" in order to reach some kind of Hashra'a (inspiration).
The character of a Nazir in Judaism is completely different.
Yes, he must be restricted from wine (and some opinions in Chazal even consider this a sin for not enjoying the goods of this world). But this is obviously not the purpose of Nezirut. The concept of a Nazir is not about suffering but rather about elevation. He is permitted to have meat and sexual relations; he has a family.
A Nazir strives and vows to make himself a holy Mikdash, where he walks around with a Mikdash inside him (no interaction with ritual impurity, "Tuma'a"). He must always be sober and prohibited from wine to be available for Torah Study, answering legal Halakhic questions and hopefully succeeding to reach prophecy. By doing this, he reaches a very high and unique level where his hair which grows from his body is like a crown with Hashem's name "written in his curls".
The Nazir brings sanctity, kedusha, to his daily life. He becomes similar to a Kohen Gadol working in the Mikdash.