ARTICULATION AND AMAZEMENT: PARSHAT NASO
Shira Smiles shiur 2021/5781
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein
Parshat Naso contains the enigmatic laws of a nazir, one who has vowed to abstain from wine, hair cutting, and several other normal and usual life practices. The Torah writes, “A man or a woman who yafli neder/will dissociate himself by taking a Nazirite vow… For the sake of Hashem kodesh yihiyeh/he shall be holy… And on the eighth day [when the term of his Nazirite has ended], he shall bring two turtledoves to the Kohen… The Kohen shall take one as a sin offering and he shall provide him atonement for having sinned regarding this person…”
The word yafli, while being translated as “disassociating himself” actually has undertones of other meanings. It can mean to articulate [the vow which follows], as in pillel/tefillah/speaking to Hashem in prayer. It can also mean wondrous, as we recite in Asher Yotzar, that Hashem mafli la’asot/performs wonders by healing our bodies. How are these alternate translations relevant to the vow of a nazir?
Rav Reiss presents us with the simplest understanding of our verse. He quotes the idea that the vow of the nazir must be clearly articulated, leaving no room for misunderstanding or half measures. Similarly, when any one of us decides to take on a stringency, we must clearly articulate exactly what we are requiring of ourselves so that we can both focus properly and leave no room for excuses.
Still focusing on speech, Rabbi Weinberger in Shemen Hatov turns our attention to the wondrous power of speech that can invest an ordinary man with such sanctity. The medium of speech creates that reality. [As Hashem created the reality of the world through speech, so can we emulate Him and create additional realities through our own speech. Be vigilant. It works both for good and bad. CKS] Halekach Vehalebuv explains that the Priestly Blessing immediately follows this section to emphasize how the power of speech transforms reality and brings down Heavenly blessings.
Letitcha Elyon cites Rabbi Hutner in clarifying the wondrous power of speech. As Hashem has incorporated within man both a physical and a spiritual aspect, the body and the soul, so can we, with the action and power of speech, connect the body to the soul. With this understanding, we realize how terrible are sins that use speech improperly.
In With Hearts Full of Faith, Rabbi Salomon develops this idea more fully. Using contrasting verses from Song of Songs and from Jeremiah – “Her voice is beloved for it is sweet,” yet in contrast, “Hateful when she raises it [her voice] against me.” More well known is the verse from Proverbs, “Death and life are in the control of the tongue…” The wonder is that a few simple words have the ability to change a halacha or declare someone a nazir. We are urged to use speech to bring sanctity to the world.
Rabbi Grosbard quotes the Iben Ezra who approaches our discussion from a different perspective. He suggests that the wonder is that a person can change his whole world order by separating himself from his normal or usual pleasures., that a person can teach himself restraint. As the Ner Uziel explains, by taking this vow, the nazir’s purpose in separating himself from following the crowd is to achieve a higher level of sanctity.
When one wants to reach a higher level, it is not enough just to leap upward. If there is no step or handle to grab at that level, he will immediately fall back down to his original position. Rabbi Pincus, the Tiferes Shimshom, suggests that the vow of nezirut provides the support he needs so that he can raise himself up to the next dimension.
Lest one think that these laws are completely esoteric and have no relevance for us today, Rebbetzin Smiles reminds us that we are all tied down to various personal pleasures that constrain us. For example, how many of us say we can’t get started without our first cup of coffee in the morning? How often do we feel compelled to check our electronic messages? [In this respect, perhaps Shabbat acts as a kind of nezirut without the vow, separating us from our norm for the purpose of elevating us. CKS] The nazir is teaching himself self control. Most of us understand the importance of monitoring what goes into our mouths (even if we don’t actually exercise restraint). We should be at least equally concerned with what comes out of our mouths, writes Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein as cited in Yalkut Lekach Tov. Before we open our mouths, let us pause to consider whether the information we are about to say is necessary, helpful, or, God forbid, hurtful.
That’s why the Torah proclaims the greatness of this person when he begins this journey through his declaration, rather than at its conclusion, writes Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi. Through his speech he is entering this domain and committing to this change. We too can commit to small changes in our lives, each leading to a small but higher step in our climb to a sanctified life.
The root of nazir comes from nezer/crown, tells us the Ohr Gedalyahu, Rabbi Schorr. The nazir is reaching deep into himself to access his spiritual component and this gives him the crown of holiness.
The concept on nezirut is not the asceticism of removing oneself from all pleasure, and certainly not from necessities, as promoted by other religions. The pleasures of this world are not evil. What we must do, however, is learn to control our desires so that our desires do not control us, explains Rabbi Segal in Yirah Vada’as. Will the adult or the child in you control what you say and do? Even something as simple as turning to see who came in while you were are in the middle of your prayers, or checking your cell phone’s beep during your Torah learning session is a response to human curiosity rather than to the spirituality of your current spiritual activity. If we are not working on our self control during normal circumstances, how will we be in control during times of stress or of heightened emotions? One may try a simple exercise and stop eating his meal for a few minutes, even if he continues a short while later to train himself to wait before indulging immediately, suggests Rabbi Lopian.
The Torah has a better understanding of the human mind than humans themselves, writes Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz. The Torah recognizes that abstaining from one’s physical desires is indeed wondrous and holy, whereas a human being is more likely to say that stopping is “no big deal; I can stop anytime I want.” Acknowledge that restraint is difficult and train yourself to hit pause before rushing into your next purchase or your next indulgence. Break the gravitational pull of the yetzer horo by making one small commitment.
The passage of nezirut immediately follows the laws of a woman suspected of being unfaithful. Our Rabbis comment that the two passages are placed near each other because one who sees a woman in this state of disgrace may take this drastic step of vowing to become a nazir to prevent himself/herself from beginning to fall into this trap through consuming wine. If this is a precautionary step to keep him holy, why is he obligated to bring a sin offering at the end of the term of his nezirut? The Ramban notes that when he is leaving this rarefied state, he is sinning to his soul by returning to his fully mundane existence. He has tasted being detached from his passions, and now he is returning to his former self, adds Rabbi Grosbard.
In Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe finds the connection between our ideas. The purpose of nezirut is not to permanently separate the physical world from the spiritual world, but rather to find a way to unite the two. That’s why this passage is followed by the priestly blessings. The blessing is a blessing for this world, but we ask that these gifts not pose a hazard to our spiritual well-being. Rather, as the Torah narrative then continues, we should use our wealth in spiritual pursuits, as the nesi’im, the princes of the tribes did in bringing gifts to inaugurate the Tabernacle. [Today those blessings of wealth can be used spiritually to support Torah institutions or to help our brethren. CKS] Everything in this world was created to be able to serve a higher purpose. The wine the nazir abstains from can be elevated by using it for Kiddush. Hashem calls us a Goy Kadosh/Holy Nation because we are meant to elevate the mundane and earthly, not separate from it. The nazir himself is called kadosh.
Everything in the physical world can be elevated. Jews do not believe physicality is defined as depravity, writes Rabbi Zev Leff in Outlook and Insight. We elevate our food every time we recite a blessing over it. A nazir, by abstaining and not elevating the physical has sinned.
One of the conditions a nazir imposes on himself is the prohibition of cutting his hair. One of the rituals at the end of his nezirut is cutting the hair. What is the connection between one’s hair and the vow of nezirut, asks Rabbi Leff? Orderly hair represents an orderly connection between the physical world here below and the spiritual world above. The Torah itself mandates that both a king and a Kohen cut their hair regularly as a symbol of this connection. The nazir must let his hair grow wild, as he has not maintained this harmony between the two worlds. When he leaves his state of nezirut and returns to the “normal” world, his hair is cut, for he has hopefully learned how to balance the two and thereby elevate the earthly.
The Mikdash Halevi identifies the point of this whole discussion. Becoming a nazir is not the goal, but the medium to reach the end goal of becoming a holy person. It is the pause button that helps one reboot so that he can interact properly with wine and with the physical world. If his time as a nazir helped him achieve that goal, he is holy. If he hasn’t changed, he is indeed a sinner.
When we use the gifts of the world toward spiritual growth, when we use our power of speech in positive ways, when we can practice self-control, we grow and become the Goy Kadosh/Holy nation Hashem has charged us with being.