Incoming Coordinator of Experiential Jewish Education – Moriah College, Syndey
What is So Great about the Nazir?
In the middle of Parshat Naso, the laws of the Nazir are greatly detailed. He must abstain from drinking wine for thirty days. He must abstain from getting a haircut or shaving for thirty days. Finally, he must abstain from coming into contact with a dead person for thirty days. For that, the Torah tells us he ‘has the crown of Holiness on his head’ and can be compared to the Kohen Gadol. What is the greatness in these three types of abstaining that suddenly places the Nazir on the same level as the High Priest?
The Nazir can still drink whiskey and beer, the only restrictions that he is accepting upon himself, are not shaving, no wine and not attending funerals. Some people go through their whole lives with these restrictions and aren’t considered a Nazir. Where does the great holiness stem from?
Rav Mordechai Gifter (1916-2001), zt”l, wrote that the greatness of the Nazir was not the fact that he abstained from wine and shaving for 30 days or that he abstained from attending funerals for a month’s time. The Nazir’s greatness stemmed from the fact that he bothered to think. He bothered to look around at his world and to contemplate the meaning of what was going on around him.
Our Sages explain that the reason for the juxtaposition of the section dealing with the Sotah and the section dealing with the Nazir is to teach that it is appropriate that one who witnesses the ordeal of a Sotah, should take a vow to abstain from wine. Every day, we see things that should make an impression upon us — but they do not. We see occurrences that are upsetting and distressing. But what do we do? We shrug and go on with our lives. The greatness of the Nazir is that he stops, contemplates, and takes action based on what he observes around him.
It does not radically change his life. It will not impact his health whatsoever. On the contrary, it is a very minor set of abstentions. But that is precisely the point. The fact that he is moved to do something realistic, something that he can easily keep distinguishes the Nazir from the population around him. He is an individual who takes the time to think about the implications of what he sees around himself, and to do something about it on a personal level.
This is a very low-key and non-ostentatious means of Divine Service. If you accept this as a religious obligation for the purpose of becoming a more spiritual personality — it can be a very meaningful way of serving the Master of the World.
This is the contribution of the Nazir to spirituality. Everyone else saw the Sotah, shook their heads in disapproval, and went on with their lives as if nothing had happened. The Nazir saw the Sotah and determined that he needed to take action — be it perhaps only symbolic and unobtrusive in scope. But at least he did something. That spiritual activism is what crowns him with the uniqueness of the status of the Nazir and equates him in certain regards with the Kohain Gadol.