Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel WeinCourtesy

The idea of the nazir always raises questions and problems. The idea of monasticism is certainly not a basic Jewish value. Just the opposite seems to be true from the ideas and statements of the rabbis in the Talmud and from Jewish societal behavioral patterns over the centuries.

Jewish society, in its divisions and manifestations is vitally and socially gregarious to the extreme, with a brashness of involvement in all fields of human endeavor, thought and progress. Yet the Torah describes for us quite clearly and vividly the necessity for some manifestation of monasticism, be it permanent or temporary, in Jewish life and social order.

Yet even this monastic situation is not meant to separate the nazir from active participation in communal life. Shimshon, the prime example of the nazir in our Tanach is nevertheless the leader of Israel, its chief judge and commanding warrior. There are halakhic restrictions placed upon the nazir but locking himself away from Jewish society is certainly not one of them. There are restrictions regarding retaining purity and cutting one’s hair, avoiding any sorts of defilement and on consuming wine and affiliated beverages.

These restrictions amongst others certainly remind the nazir of his special status, but the nazir is still positively a member of the general society in all senses of participation in normal human life. If anything, a nazir now becomes a model for others for the attempt to achieve probity and purity in a world of the impure and sometimes wicked. So even though the rabbis are not happy with someone becoming a nazir, neziirim and nezirut are a necessary piece of the human puzzle that the Torah describes for us.

The Talmud also teaches us that the impetus for becoming a nazir is also societal. It stems not from the inner wish of the individual to forego certain pleasures and norms of life as much as it stems from the wish for a protective shield from the dissoluteness and licentiousness of the surrounding society. Apparently, in a perfect world, the whole concept of nezirut would be unnecessary. But the Torah judges human life, even Jewish life, as it really is in our imperfect world and not as it should somehow be. And, therefore, the nazir becomes a necessary ingredient in our Torah society.

Over the ages there have been outstanding people who have chosen the way of the nazir for themselves in their lifetimes. However, the reticence of the rabbis and Jewish tradition on this matter has prevented nezirut from becoming widespread or even accepted behavior. The Torah does not seek to impose burdens upon one’s life as much as it intends to guide and temper our choices and behavior within the framework of a wholesome complete life.

This is also part of the lesson of the parsha of nazir to us. In essence, by knowing that becoming a nazir is an acceptable last resort in dealing with immorality and heartbreak, we can avoid this by living daily according to Torah precepts and values and shunning foreign and immoral influences in our lives and communities.