The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 3 October 2015 / 20 Tishri 5776

Nazir 41 - 47

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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A Single Hair

The nazir must shave all the hair from his head when he reaches the conclusion of his nezirut period. He must shave as well when he purifies himself at the end of the period of ritual impurity resulting from contact with the dead which interrupts his nezirut period. While the nazir uses a razor to shave only his head, two other cases mentioned in the Torah require that all bodily hair be thus removed. One is the metzora who must do so in his purification process (Vayikra 14:9). The other is that of the Levites when they were first inducted into the Sanctuary service (Bamidbar 8:7).

In all cases, the mitzva is not completed if two hairs are left unshaven. In the case of the nazir, this insistence on totality is deduced from the repetition, in a single passage, of the command to shave his head (Bamidbar 6:9). This led Rabbi Acha, the son of Rabbi Ikka, to the conclusion that Torah Law considered the majority as being equivalent to the whole. Since the Torah found it necessary to use a double phrase to communicate that shaving most of the nazir's hair is not considered a total shaving, we conclude that this is the exception to the general rule that "most equals all."

[This has ramifications in regard to how much of the trachea and esophagus must be severed in the process of shechita (Mesechta Chullin 19a), what constitutes birth to make a woman ritually impure (Mesechta Nidah 29a), and a variety of other halachic areas.]

Why did Rabbi Acha have to prove this rule from nazir rather than rely on the general principle throughout the Talmud that in all matters of doubt we rely on the indication of majority? The explanation given by the commentaries is that this is not similar to the classic case of finding meat whose kashrut status is uncertain and determining that it is kosher since there are more shops selling kosher meat than there are selling non-kosher. There, we follow the "majority-rules" guideline which the Torah gave for deciding judgment in cases of a split-panel of judges, and we determine the status of the meat accordingly. We do not affect the minority, however, as we wish to do in the case of the nazir's hair by declaring that it is all shaven, or in the case of shechita where we rule that even the unsevered portion is considered as if it too had been severed. To establish this principle, Rabbi Acha was compelled to deduce it from the Torah making an exception of the nazir.

But, we may ask, if the Torah insisted on totality regarding the nazir, why will leaving even a single hair not be considered non-fulfillment? The answer is that the Torah mentions hair in regard to a sign of impurity in a metzora (Vayikra 13:3) and the totality of color of the "red heifer" (Bamidbar 19:2). In both cases, we have a tradition from Moshe that hair means two hairs. It can therefore be assumed that a single hair has no status at all and does not stand in the way of total fulfillment.

  • Nazir 42a

Mystery of the Missing Oil

Although both the nazir and the kohen are forbidden to come into contact with the dead under normal circumstances, they are obligated to bury a "met mitzvah" -- a dead Jew whom they come across in a place where there is no one else available to take care of the burial. What if a kohen gadol and a nazir together came upon such a corpse -- which of them should abandon his sacred status to bury it?

On this point there is a dispute in the mishna between Rabbi Eliezer and the other sages. In regard to other situations of comparative holiness, the gemara offers a consensus as to who must do the burying. One of these cases, however, presents a mystery as to the circumstances involved.

A kohen gadol, from Aharon on, entered into his position by being anointed with the special oil prepared by Moshe at the command of Hashem (Shemot 30:30). After the vial containing this oil was concealed along with the Holy Ark by King Yoshiyahu in anticipation of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the kohen gadol entered into his position simply by dressing himself in the four additional priestly garments which distinguished him from a regular kohen.

Our case deals with such a kohen gadol coming upon a met mitzvah, while accompanied by a kohen gadol who had been anointed with that special oil and had served on Yom Kippur as a substitute for the kohen gadol who had become ritually impure. This substitute, says the gemara (Mesechta Yoma 12b), cannot serve in the capacity of a kohen gadol after the man he replaced returns to his service, for this will create a feeling of animosity. Neither can he function as a regular kohen because this would be a comedown from his temporary status as kohen gadol. Since he is effectively unable to function as a kohen, it is he who must defile himself with burying the met mitzvah despite the fact that he was anointed.

The simple reading of the case is that this non-functionary ex-kohen gadol had served as a substitute for the non-anointed kohen gadol now accompanying him. But this is impossible, Tosefot points out, because if the one kohen gadol was not anointed because the oil had already been concealed, it would have been impossible for his substitute to be thus anointed. Tosefot solves the problem by presenting the following scenario:

An anointed kohen gadol from the pre-concealment period became impure on Yom Kippur and was temporarily replaced by another anointed kohen gadol. The original kohen gadol then returned to his position but eventually went into Babylonian exile with the first group of exiles, years before the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. His anointed substitute could not be appointed in his place because of the animosity consideration that is relevant as long as the first kohen gadol is alive. The kohen gadol appointed to replace the first kohen gadol could not be anointed because the oil was already concealed. These two -- the anointed temporary substitute and the non-anointed successor -- are now together when they come upon the met mitzvah.

  • Nazir 47b

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