The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 29 March 2008 / 22 Adar II 5768

Nazir 13 - 19

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Making a Name for Himself

If one hears another Jew make a vow to be a nazir in the event that a son is born to him and he declares "Me too," there is a question raised as to his intention. On the one hand we can interpret his statement as a vow that he too will be a nazir if a son is born to himself. Alternatively, there is the possibility that what he really meant was that he too will be a nazir if a son is born to his friend, and the "me too" was a declaration that we will love that son as much as his father does and therefore will express his gratitude to Heaven in the same manner by assuming nezirut.

This unresolved question is presented in our gemara by a sage names Ben Rachumi whose name appears nowhere else in the Talmud. An interesting observation is made by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chayot about sages who made such solo appearances. These sages became so identified with their single statement that they were called by a name referring to it.

One example is Rabbi Yitzchak Migdalah who explains the mishna (Mesechta Bava Metzia 25a) which rules that if one finds three coins placed one upon the other he must assume that they did not fall from their owner in such fashion and were abandoned, but rather were placed there and forgotten, a situation requiring the finder to announce his find. This is only true, says this sage, if the coins are found in the pyramid pattern of a tower, with each coin lying on one broader than itself. Since he used the model of a "migdal," Hebrew for tower, to make his point, he was subsequently referred to as Rabbi Yitzchak Migdalah.

Another example is Rabbi Zuhamoi (Mesechta Berachot 53b), who made a solo statement that one whose hands are greasy from eating is ineligible to say the birkat hamazon after a meal. Since he used the term "mezuham," Hebrew for greasy, he was thereafter known as Rabbi Zuhamoi.

In the same manner, our gemara's question regarding a vow for nezirut which might be interpreted as "love for the son," the sage who presented this question was called Ben Rachumi which means a "son who is loved."

  • Nazir 13a

The Sin of Self-Denial

Self-denial can sometimes be spiritually counterproductive. Rabbi Elazar Hakapar derives this from the fact that the Torah refers to the nazir as a "sinner." The only sin we can find in regard to the nazir is the fact that he denied himself the pleasure of wine. If one who abstains from wine alone is called a sinner, he concludes, how much more so is one who denies himself everything and indulges in fasting considered a sinner!

The only problem with this sage's deduction is that the Torah calls a nazir a sinner only in the case where he defiled himself through contact with the dead and must bring sacrifices of atonement and start his nezirut period from the beginning. There is no mention of sin in the Torah regarding the nazir who successfully completes his nezirut period without becoming impure.

Rabbi Elazar Hakapar responds to this challenge by pointing out that every nazir is really a sinner because of his self-denial but the Torah explicitly applied this appellation to the nazir who became impure because he magnified his sin.

This statement seems to run counter to a previous gemara (Nazir 3a). The first mishna in our Mesechta teaches us that one who declares "I shall beautify myself" is considered as having taken a vow of nezirut. The Sage Shmuel explains that since he was holding on to his hair when he made this declaration it is understood that his intention was to beautify himself before Hashem through the nezirut mitzvah of abstaining from cutting his hair. How can nezirut be considered beautiful before Hashem, asks the gemara, if the nazir is called a sinner? The answer given is that Rabbi Elazar Hakapar was referring only to a nazir who became impure and not to a regular nazir.

Tosefot (Nazir 2b and Bava Kama 91b) resolves this contradiction as follows: Every nazir is called a sinner because of his self-denial. There is, however, a positive aspect of nezirut when it is utilized to control illicit passion. Nezirut can therefore be considered beautiful before Hashem because the positive element outweighs the negative one. A parallel to this is the case of one who is commanded to fast on Shabbat because of a bad dream. Even though fasting on Shabbat is wrong, the positive aspect of counteracting the evil portent of the dream outweighs this and he must go ahead with it, and later he must atone for his sin of fasting on Shabbat by fasting on another day in the week. When it comes to the nazir who becomes impure, the negative aspect is dominant because he magnified his sin and the Torah therefore calls him a sinner.

There are several explanations in the commentaries of what is meant by magnifying his sin. One is that by having to start all over again he has added days to his period of self-denial. Another is that in addition to self-denial he has violated, even if only through negligence, the Torah ban on a nazir coming into contact with the dead. A third approach is that because he has to start all over again he may have regrets that he ever took upon himself such a vow and thus lose credit for the positive element in nezirut.

  • Nazir 14a

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