Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 15 June 2019 / 12 Sivan 5779


by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Library Library Library

Nazir: Separate & Sanctified

In this week’s parsha we are introduced to the nazir. When one takes the Nazirite vow, he obligates himself in three ways: (1) to abstain from wine and grapes, and all derivative products, (2) to refrain from cutting his hair, and (3) to ensure he does not become ritually impure by contact with a corpse.

The word nazir means to keep away from, or to separate. It is tempting to interpret nazir as an abstainer since he must stay far away from grapes and wine. However, this clearly cannot be the essence of a nazir, since this is only one of the three obligations he assumes, and it is not the distinguishing feature of nezirut.

In fact, none of the three, not even the sum of all three, represent the essence of a nazir. When the Torah sums up the whole meaning of nezirut, it says: All the day of his nezirut, he is holy to G-d. The prohibitions of nezirut are only outward manifestations, or consequences of his holiness. Indeed, the presence of both prophets and Nazirites in Israel’s midst was considered a sign of special Divine favor.

The word nazir in this context also does not denote one who keeps away from others. Rather, it reflects one from whom others keep away, because he is seeking to be alone with G-d. When the term is used in the agricultural context, it means a vine which must be left untended, to grow on its own during the Shemita and Yovel years.

The nezer, the crown that adorns the head of the king, puts the rest of the people at a distance from him. Similarly, the regimented striving and living of the nazir sets him apart, and elevates him above his peers. He devotes himself to be “Holy to His G-d” with all his being and aspirations. It is as if he draws a nezer, a circle, around himself and G-d, to create an isolated existence with His Maker. It is not a hermit’s physical isolation, but rather a mental and spiritual isolation, in the midst of the bustle of everyday life. Rav Hirsch further explains how abstention from wine, hair growth, and refraining from contact with the dead aid this process of withdrawal into himself, so that the nazir may improve himself spiritually and morally.

When his period of nezirut is over, he brings a special offering. The focal point of the Nazirite offering is the ram brought as a shelamim, a peace offering. This animal represents the antithesis of his nezirut. The abstinent and withdrawn state was never meant to be permanent. Rather, the temporary withdrawal from communal life, if used properly, led to a spiritual and moral refinement, which was then rededicated to the community. Just as formerly he distinguished himself by his withdrawal and renunciation, now he is to distinguish himself and lead the people. He is an ayil (ram, also meaning strength) who lives at peace with G-d (korban shelamim). He becomes a paragon of strength for his people, who models the blissful harmony of a life lived in the presence of G-d.

  • Source: Commentary, Bamidbar 6:1-14

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