Lessons from Nezirut by Zachary Greenberg


In Parashat Naso, the Torah informs us of the incredible opportunity to take the vow of Nazirut (BeMidbar 6). A Nazir has three restrictions: He is forbidden to eat or drink grapes or grape products, he may not have his hair cut, and he may not be contaminated by a dead body. The benefit of becoming a Nazir is that it gives any ordinary person the chance to be on a similar level as the highest ranking Jew, the Kohen Gadol. As the Torah writes, “LeAviv ULeImo LeAchie ULeAchoto Lo Yitama Lahem BeMotam Ki Neizer Elokav Al Rosho,” “To his father or to his mother, to his brother or to his sister, he shall not contaminate himself to them upon their death, for the crown of God is upon his head” (6:7). The word “Neizer,” which the word “Nazir” is derived from, means “a crown” in this context. This is the Torah’s way of teaching that those who become a Nazir have a spiritual crown on their head.

The practice of Nezirut is a curious one, and it leads us to ask many questions. To name a few, why are these three specific restrictions associated with Nezirut, and why is the concept of Nezirut mentioned here in Parashat Naso?

The first restriction associated with Nezirut is the restriction on grapes and grape products. According to Rashi (6:1 s.v. Ki Yafli), a Nazir abstains from wine so that he will not become drunk and be led to frivolous acts. According to Rashi, though, it is unclear why a Nazir cannot eat any grape products, even those which do not lead to intoxication. Ibn Ezra explains that a Nazir is supposed to build a fence around himself by forbidding himself to eat anything that could lead to wine, namely grapes. Rav Shimshon Hirsch explains that the Nazir’s removing himself from all grapes serves as a constant reminder to him of the reason why he became a Nazir – to repair his thoughts and his spiritual being; in order for him to do so, he must remain clearheaded at all times.

The second restriction imposed on a Nazir is the restriction against shaving his head. Rav Hirsch explains that hair is what protects our body from the outside world, since it protects the skin. The Nazir is creating a stronger barrier against the outside world by growing his hair long, so that he will focus more on becoming closer to God and not worrying excessively about the outside world. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that hair represents strength. That is why when Shimshon’s hair was cut, he lost all his strength (Shofetim 16). Therefore, the prohibition to not cut hair is again a constant reminder for the Nazir to strengthen his relationship with Hashem.

The third restriction is that a Nazir cannot come into contact with a dead body. Rashi (BeMidbar 6:7 s.v. Kol Yemei Nizro Kadosh Hu) explains that since a Nazir is dedicating himself to becoming closer to Hashem, he is an on a holier status and is therefore not allowed to become Tamei.

All three of these restrictions, if understood correctly, can help us comprehend the purpose of Nezirut. A Nazir is someone who wants to reach a higher spiritual level and needs to therefore refrain from unholy things – both psychically and spiritually – and instead attempt to become closer to Hashem.

One does not become a Nazir only if he wishes to become holier. As explained in the Gemara (Sotah 2a) anyone who sees a Sotah in her disgrace should become a Nazir. Although this reason seems to be unconnected from the other reason one becomes a Nazir, namely to become holier, it is not. Naturally, someone who sees a Sotah would most likely think that he or she would never allow something so disgraceful to happen to him or her, since he or she is a better than the Sotah. Therefore, one who witnesses a Sotah should become a Nazir to remind himself that he is human too and needs to take the time to connect with Hashem and reach a higher spiritual level.

The lesson of the Nazir and Sotah is to remind ourselves to stop comparing ourselves to other people, but to rather focus on ourselves and find the aspects of our personality in which we are struggling and improve on those. If we can do so, we will hopefully become better people, even without necessarily becoming Nezirim.

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