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Two Approaches To Nezirut

Jun 4, 2009
This week's parsha elaborates greatly on the mitzvoth of the nazir. What is the root of the word nazir? There are two possible roots which depend on the way we view the nazir. One possibility is that it is from the same root as nazoru achor meaning to turn their backs (see Yeshayahu 1:4). The nazir has in a sense turned his back on the pleasures of this world. I would like to suggest that the word nazir perhaps is derived from the word nezer - a crown - as we find in the pasuk: nezer Elokav al rosho. According to this latter interpretation, the nazir is wearing the crown of nezirut.

These two interpretations correspond to the two views presented by Chazal regarding whether or not nezirut is something positive. On the one hand, the Torah refers to him as holy (see Bamidbar 6:5), while on the other hand he is required to offer a korban-chatat, a sin-offering, upon completion of his term of nezirut. Why should a nazir be viewed as a sinner? Did he not abstain from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and becoming tamei as the Torah requires? Why then must he bring a korban reserved for one who has sinned? One view in Chazal and the Rishonim states that he is guilty of descending from the high level he had reached. If he was able to rise to such a level where he separated himself from some of the pleasures of this world, why was he unable to remain on that level?

The other position states: "'He shall offer atonement for having sinned concerning the soul' (Bamidbar 6:11), and concerning which soul has this nazir sinned? Rather he has distressed himself from wine" (Taanit 11a). This approach in Chazal teaches us that becoming a nazir is in and of itself sinful. The A-lmighty has provided us with many pleasures in this world one of which is wine - what gave this man the right to deprive himself of this enjoyment of Hashem's creation? According to the Gemara his sin is simply that he deprived himself of wine, it is not that he did not recite Kiddush over wine, because this mitzvah could have been fulfilled by hearing the Kiddush from someone else.

Chazal, however, teach us that there are times when it is proper for a person to take upon himself the vow of nezirut. For example, in response to the question of why the section dealing with nazir immediately follows that of sotah, Chazal answer "To tell you that anyone who sees a sotah in her state of disgrace should take upon himself to abstain from wine" (Sotah 2a). Wine is a cause of much sin, and anyone who witnesses too much corrupt behavior should take upon himself more stringent behavior than that required of the average person as a way of setting boundaries or fences for himself to protect the levels of holiness.

As we mentioned above, it appears from one perspective based on the Tanach and Chazal that the nazir is a holy man - he is not a sinner! In general, the Tanach views nezirut as something positive as well. The prophet praises Hashem for all the great gifts He has given us: "I established some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as nazirites" (Amos 2:11). This would indicate that nezirut is very close to the level of prophecy which is associated with ruach hakodesh. I cannot say whether or not the nazir has the prophet's ability to see into the future, yet what is clear is that the nazir appears to be a holy individual not far below the level of prophet.

I would venture to say that these two perspectives on nazir are not contradictory. Perhaps the reason for this dichotomy is because there are two sorts of nezirim. On the one hand we find Avshalom, the son of David. He may have been a nazir who grew his hair and kept the other laws of nezirut, yet he was a very bad person. He fought against his father and almost murdered him in addition to his other treacherous acts. In the end he was hanged from his own hair as it became caught in a tree and he was unable to escape. The level of his nezirut was unable to save him. On the other hand, we read in this week's haftarah about the birth of Shimshon HaGibor. He became a nazir after an angel informed his mother that she would give birth to a son who would become a nazir at birth. From that point on she refrained from partaking of anything that was forbidden to the nazir such as wine. Shimshon's nezirut gave him the strength to battle the Plishtim and save the Jewish nation. His nezirut was fulfillment of a great mitzvah. Furthermore, there is a view in Chazal that the prophet Shmuel was a nazir, in fulfillment of his mother's prayers. Certainly Chana was not praying for a son who was going to be a sinner, G-d forbid. Why would his mother wish for him to become a nazir? I believe that Chana came to pray for a son on the same day that Eli HaKohen became the leader of Klal Yisrael. Eli became the leader following the death of Shimshon. Chana wanted to have a son that would continue in the path of Shimshon, the nazir who battled the Plishtim.

Not every nazir can be considered a kadosh and not every nazir can be viewed as a sinner. The Gemara cites incidents of those who would take this vow out of anger, as a means of getting back at someone who did something to them - according to all views this is not to be viewed positively. On the other hand, many take this vow upon themselves in an effort to defeat their yetzer hara - this is certainly positive. Shimon HaTzaddik was known to have held that a nazir is a sinner. However, the Gemara relates that he met a young man who had just completed his nezirut and arrived in the Beit HaMikdash with his korbanot. The Torah mandates that on the day a nazir completes his nezirut he must cut his hair. Upon seeing this young man, Shimon HaTzaddik said to him: "you have such beautiful hair, why are you cutting it?" The young man answered: "I saw my reflection in the water and noticed how beautiful my hair looked. I was afraid that it would make me too proud. To avoid this I have decided to cut my hair." The Gemara records that Shimon HaTzaddik kissed the young man and said: "you clearly took upon yourself nezirut in order to defeat the yetzer hara, such nezirut is praiseworthy."

According to all opinions, a person who drinks too much wine should do his utmost to reduce his wine intake. These two opinions regarding how to view a nazir are both correct, depending on whom we are speaking of - some nezirim are sinners while others are holy people.

It is unlikely that there is even a single tanna or amora who views every case of nezirut as something negative, after all Hashem sent an angel to make Shimon a nazir. As we mentioned, a vow of nezirut with the intent of breaking a person's yetzer hara is a positive thing. Given the difficulty in keeping to the restrictions of vows, a person wishing to curtail the effects of his yetzer hara, best take upon oneself these stringencies, bli neder. A person with a drinking problem should perhaps try to abstain or at least lessen his intake. The Ramban views a person who tries to curtail permitted pleasures as fulfilling the dictum of kedoshim tihyu. A holy person is one who battles against his yetzer hara. The yetzer hatov instructs us to eat and drink in order to remain healthy and have the strength to learn Torah. The yetzer hara entices us to eat and drink with the opposite intent.

In Parshat Ki Tetze we read about the ben sorer umoreh, the wayward son. He begins by overeating meat and overdrinking wine, which eventually leads to stealing and other terrible acts. Why is such a young man punishable by death for simply having eaten too much meat or having drunk too much wine? The Gemara explains that it is not the specific act of eating meat and drinking wine, but rather his manner. Someone who follows this path will eventually have to be dependent on stealing, at times having to resort to killing people in his way - he is not guilty of any terrible acts now but his lifestyle will lead to acts which are punishable with death by stoning.

Nezirut is supposed to sanctify us, to help us control our yetzer hara, while the ben sorer umoreh does whatever his heart desires. The Torah gave us nezirut as a way of improving our lives. Meat and wine are often used in fulfillment of mitzvoth (Rav Dessler used to say, however, that when we eat our chulent we must make sure not to eat the Shabbat with the chulent. Although we are commanded to eat on Shabbat we must remember that it is a spiritual experience). The nazir, however, understands that there is such thing as having too much. We must enjoy this world but not to an extreme. Eating must be leShem Shamayim in order to have strength to learn. A Jew eats in order to live while a non-Jew lives in order to eat. We must understand what is of primary importance and what is of secondary importance. What must be primary in our lives is leading lives of Torah and mitzvoth. Food is important, it sustains us, but it is not our primary focus. The ben sorer umoreh, on the other hand, lives his life simply in order to eat meat and drink wine.

I once asked the Rav zt"l the following question: When a person is about to eat two vegetables - one very healthy and one very tasty, over which one does he recite the bracha? The halacha states that he need only recite the bracha over the preferred one - the chaviv, and the bracha he recites counts for the other vegetable as well (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 211:1). Is the healthier food or the tastier food considered the chaviv. The Rav answered that man's purpose in eating is to remain healthy and strong to be able to learn Torah, it is not to fulfill his earthly desires. If so, the healthy vegetable is the chaviv and the bracha must be recited over that one. Although, just as I can change my mind regarding which one is more chaviv from a taste perspective, the expert doctors can change their opinion regarding which is more healthy, yet "you need not seek to go to any judge other than the one that is in one's own days" (Rosh Hashana 25b). I thought that perhaps the ruling of the Rav zt"l only applies to weekdays and not to Shabbat and Yom Tov, for on Shabbat and Yom Tov we have a mitzvah of Oneg and Simcha and perhaps one should then specifically choose the food that he enjoys more.

When we use this world for increased spirituality then in effect we have transformed olam hazeh into olam haba. Our goal in this world must be more than simply to fill our stomachs. Olam hazeh must be a means to an end, not an end in itself. A person who takes nezirut upon himself for the right purposes, realizes this. Nezirut for this purpose is viewed positively. The ben sorer umoreh is traveling in the opposite direction - his goal is to eat and enjoy the pleasures of this world. We just celebrated the Yom Tov of Matan Torah. Prior to the Torah being given, Hashem commanded us to become a mamlechet kohanim vegoy kadosh "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Shmot 19:6). This world must not be an end but rather a preparation for the Next World. This world is can be viewed as a stop on our way to the Next World and therefore any enjoyment we get from this world must be only as a means of bringing us into the Next World.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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