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Man's Relationship with this World

Jun 1, 2012



This week's Parsha elaborates greatly on the Mitzvah of the Nazir. The Torah informs us that a Nazir who defiles his sanctity by coming in contact with a dead body must bring an asham-offering (see Bamidbar 6:12). At first glance it would appear that this offering serves to atone for his having violated one of the precepts of his vow. The difficulty with this approach is that the halacha demands this offering even from one who cannot be held accountable for becoming "tamei", as the pasuk itself states: "if a person should die near him with quick suddenness" (Bamidbar 6:11). The Nazir is deemed guilty of violating the terms of his Nezirut, in spite of the general principle that "Hashem exempts one in extenuating circumstances" (Avoda Zara 54a). It would appear that the Torah is teaching us that had the Nazir been on a higher level, Hashem would not have brought about a contingency in which his sanctity would be defiled. The fact that Hashem placed him in a situation in which he became "tamei", albeit not through his choosing, indicates something lacking in the Nazir and it is for this that he must bring this guilt-offering.


 It is not only the Nazir who becomes "tamei" who must bring an offering associated with a sin. The Nazir who successfully completes his Nezirut is required to bring a Korban Chatat (see Bamdibar 6:13-14). Why should someone who meticulously carried out all the demands placed upon him be required to bring a sin-offering? 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? In the view of one opinion in the Gemara: "'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). (The pasuk quoted by the Gemara refers to one who has become tamei in the midst of his Nezirut, yet the same reasoning applies to one who has completed his term of purity as well. Although one view in the Gemara reserves the term "sinner" for the Nazir who violated the terms of his Nezirut by becoming "tamei", there is an opinion that a Nazir who remains "tahor" is also deemed a sinner. Whether he is referred to as a sinner or not, the fact remains that a Nazir who remains "tahor" until the conclusion of his term of Nezirut must bring a sin-offering.) This approach in Chazal states 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. 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.


Yet Chazal refer to the Nazir as a holy man (as the Torah states: "holy shall he be" (Bamidbar 6:5)). He is not a sinner! On the contrary he is holy. In general, the Tanach views Nezirut as something positive as well. The prophet states: "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.




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 find Shimshon HaGibor. He became a Nazir after an angel informed his mother that she would give birth to a son who would then become one. From that point on she refrained from partaking of anything that was forbidden to the Nazir such as wine. Shimshon's Nezirut was what gave him the strength to battle the Plishtim and save the Jewish nation. In his case observing of the Nezirut was fulfillment of a great Mitzvah. Futhermore, there is a view in Chazal that the prophet Shmuel was a Nazir. According to this opinion it was his mother who caused him to become a Nazir. 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. When did Eli become 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. (We can read of Shmuel's battles with the Plishtim and the Plishtim escaping in the Tanach). 


How can we understand this paradox -at on the one hand the Nazir is viewed as acting sinfully while on the other hand he is viewed as having achieved a special level of Kedusha? The Tanach's view seems to be that Nezirut is holy. The Torah commands us "kedoshim tihyu" "you shall be holy" (Vayikra 19:2). What does it mean to be holy? Chazal interpret this as "prushim tihyu" "you shall separate" (Yalkut Shimoni Parshat Kedoshim remez 604) keep yourself as far away from sin as possible.




The Messilat Yesharim explains this concept of "prushim". On the one hand a person may not avoid partaking of the pleasures of this world, as Chazal tell us: "a person is destined to be judged on all that his eyes saw and he did not enjoy" (Yerushalmi end of Kiddushin). The Talmud brings the story of certain Amoraim who would pool their pennies together in order to purchase each species of fruit at least once a year in order to recite "shehecheyanu", a blessing thanking the A-lmighty for this wonderful world He has given us. A person will be judged for all that he has seen in this world and did not partake of. This does not imply that we need to eat everything we see in the grocery store, but it means that we should try to taste from the many different sorts of foods. We should not avoid the pleasures of this world, yet we should not eat all day long. A person should eat only when he is in need of food, and when that happens he should not avoid seeking the best fruits he has. The Messilat Yesharim cites an adage from Chazal "filling the stomach ranks among the types of evils" (Brachot 32a), yet we should not abstain from the pleasures of this world for no apparent reason. In short our aim should be to eat whatever we need to serve Hashem. In order to remain healthy we have to eat, but not too much. On Shabbat and Yom Tov we are commanded to eat for pleasure, but during the other days of the week our eating is for our health.


This is the true meaning of "kedoshim tihyu" as "prushim tihyu". Adhering to this commandment means that if there are seventy ways in which something can be consumed in a permissible fashion, yet there is one possibility of it leading to a violation it should be avoided. "Prushim tihyu" keeping a distance from what is forbidden, means avoiding any possibility of violating any prohibition. The act of becoming a Nazir and avoiding wine is a positive one if it is to avoid the possibility of sin. For other people however avoiding wine altogether is not something that should be encouraged. One who does so is considered as having sinned. In addition, when refraining from wine interferes with a person's Avodat Hashem then vows of Nezirut should be avoided.


Hashem wants us to enjoy the pleasures of this world. Chazal cite the following insight from Yalta, the wife of Rav Nachman: "whatever the Merciful One forbade us, He permitted us something corresponding. He forbade us blood, but permitted us liver He forbade eating the 'chelev' of a domestic animal, but permitted 'chelev' of an undomesticated animal, He forbade pork but permitted the brains of a 'shibuta' (a type of fish)" (Chullin 109b). The one prohibition in the Torah that has no permissible corresponding method of receiving that pleasure is the consumption of the "gid hanashe". The Torah tells us: "and he (Yaakov) was limping on his hip, therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the displaced sinew on the ball of the thighbone to this day, because he (the angel) struck on the ball of Yaakov's thighbone on the displaced sinew" (Bereishit 32:32-33).




Why does the Gemara not provide an alternate way of tasting the Gid HaNashe? One opinion in the Gemara, which the halacha follows, states that the Gid HaNashe has no flavor (see Pesachim 22a). This means that if a (forbidden) piece of Gid HaNashe were to get mixed in with other food, the mixture would be permissible, because the Gid does not emit any flavor. There is no need to find a substitute for the pleasure it provides, because there is no pleasure from it (see Pesachim 22a). Even according to the opinion which states that it does have taste, the flavor is not very desirable (see Chullin 92b). Why does the Torah forbid the consumption of the Gid HaNashe if it has no flavor? The Gid HaNashe is forbidden because this is where the angel of Yaakov touched him. By forbidding the Gid HaNashe the Torah is showing us what we can get from the angel of Esav: nothing!


People mistakenly think that the yetzer hara wishes to tempt us with all the pleasures of this world in order that we lose our place in the Next World. This is not true, the yetzer hara wishes to remove us from this world as well. When he cannot accomplish this he tries to at least prevent us from obtaining Olam Haba.


Pharaoh's yetzer hara enticed him to make the Jewish people into his slaves. Would it not have made sense for him to use this Jewish slave labor productively as a means of gaining great wealth? Yet, this is not what Pharaoh did, Chazal tell us that the slave labor carried out by the Jewish people was of no use whatsoever to the Egyptians. The two big cities they built "Pitom" and "Raamses" were so named: "Pitom because 'pi tehom' - the mouth of the deep swallowed up one building after another, Raamses because one building after another would collapse ('mitroses')" (Sotah 11a). The division of labor in Egypt was without any regard to efficiency, men carried out work traditionally assigned to women and vice versa (ibid.). This clearly shows us that the yetzer hara has no wish to give anything good to Pharaoh or anyone else. Ideally it would like us to lose both this world and the Next, if it cannot remove us from this world then it tempts us with the pleasures of this world in an attempt to remove us from the Next World.




Chazal point out that if one were to leave a goat or a small lamb beside a snake or scorpion, no harm would befall them, for the goat knows to beware of them. If, however, one would, G-d forbid, leave a baby near these creatures, the baby, out of curiosity would try to touch the snake or scorpion and would end up being bitten, G-d forbid. Similarly, leaving a goat or lamb near an open pit will not result in any grave consequences, yet leaving a baby near an open pit - heaven forbid what can result from this!


What accounts for this distinction? Because "man's inclination is evil from his youth" (Bereishit 8:21) - "from the time that he stirs to go out of his mother's insides, the urge to do evil is put in him" (Rashi). At this "ripe age", the yetzer hara is already pushing man into acting in a way that places his life in danger. The yetzer hara has no such desire when it comes to the lamb, but when it comes to the baby, it tries its utmost to kill him. As the child gets older the yetzer hara searches for other ways to kill him it convinces him to smoke or to take drugs. We see that the yetzer wishes to removed us not only from the Next World but from this world as well. The yetzer hatov, on the other hand, strives to provide us with both worlds.


Our desire is to live, not to be removed from this world and certainly not from the Next World. It is Hashem's wish that we remain in this world and grow spiritually as well as physically. Chazal tell us "the wicked are controlled by their hearts while the righteous rule their hearts" (Bereishit Rabba Parsha 34). The righteous are able to dictate to the heart what is proper they make the heart understand what they understand, they do not follow the desires of their hearts the way the wicked do.


The Torah states: "You shall love Hashem, your G-d with all your heart" (Devarim 6:5). The word for "your heart" is spelled "levavcha" with two of the letter "bet" rather than the standard "libcha". Chazal explain that this refers to both the yetzer hatov and the yetzer hara: "With all your heart' means with both your inclinations - with the good inclination and with the evil inclination" (Brachot 54a, Rashi Devarim 6:5). Our entire being must serve Hashem, even when we enjoy the pleasures of this world it must be in the service of Hashem.


I once asked the Rav (HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) 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). Which is considered "chaviv" - the healthier food or the tastier food? 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 experts and doctors can change their opinion regarding which is more healthy and "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 special Mitzvah of "Oneg" and "Simcha" and perhaps on those days one should specifically choose the food that he enjoys more.




In Hilchot Deot the Rambam describes the "middot", character traits, a person should strive for. He teaches us that in almost all middot a person should choose a middle of the road approach not to go to either extreme. For example, a person should not refrain from giving tzdaka, while on the other hand he should not squander all of his money on tzdaka. The Rambam adds that a "chacham" chooses the middle road, while a "chasid" pious individual goes a bit beyond the middle. The Rambam lists only two exceptions to this rule anger and pride. For both these traits a person must go to the extreme he must distance himself as far as possible from anger and from pride. Regarding pride, the paradigm of this type of behavior was Moshe Rabenu, as the Torah tells us "Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth!" (Bamidbar 12:3).


As we mentioned, when it comes to all other middot a middle of the road approach should be taken. This applies to "taava", desire as well one should not go to either extreme. On the one hand it is forbidden for a person to deprive himself from eating in an attempt to refrain from enjoying this world, while on the other hand a person should not go to the other extreme and live for eating. We must live for learning and doing Mitzvot. It is important to eat but man must be the master of his food, and not to allow his food to have mastery over him.




Hashem created us with body and soul, with the soul desiring heavenly pursuits while the body desires that which is earthly. The two however cannot exist without each other, the body cannot exist without the soul and the soul cannot exist without the body. In order for them to coexist the body must look after the interests of the soul, and the soul must look after the interests of the body. In doing so, it is important to follow the middle path, unless the person is in the category of a "chassid" in which case he may veer a bit more towards the spiritual side of things, but still not to go to an extreme.


There will be a time when the partnership between the body and soul will come to an end, but in the meantime they are both working together in the service of Hashem. This week we celebrated the Yom Tov of Kabbalat HaTorah, we must understand how Hashem wishes for us to observe the Torah. The Torah is not opposed to our enjoying this world, but this world must be enjoyed in a way which benefits our body and soul. We must not go to any extreme by taking upon ourselves vows not to eat one type of food or another. Nowadays it is certainly not appropriate to take upon ourselves the vow of Nezirut. Firstly, it is practically impossible to avoid becoming defiled by coming in contact with a grave, for there are graves everywhere. Secondly, a Nazir at the conclusion of his term of Nezirut is required to offer Korbanot and unfortunately there is no place today in which these Korbanot can be offered. On the other hand, we must make sure not to be enticed by the yetzer hara's attempt to draw us into getting too involved in pursuits of worldly pleasure. We must work to maintain the proper balance and then with Hashem's help we will be fulfilled in this world and the Next World.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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