Nezirut: Saint or Sinner? by Dovid Mirsky


Parashat Naso elaborates greatly on the Mitzvot of a Nazir. There are two opinions regarding the root of the word Nazir which are contingent on the way we view a Nazir. One possibility is that it is from the same root as, “Nazoru Achor,” “They are turned away backward” (Yishayahu 1:4). The Nazir has, in a sense, turned his back on the pleasures of this world. Another possibility is that the word “Nazir” is derived from the word “Neizer,” meaning a crown, as in, “Ki Neizer Elokav Al Rosho,” “For the crown of his God is on his head” (BeMidbar 6:7). According to this interpretation, the Nazir is wearing the crown of Nezirut, clearly something which is positive.

These two interpretations correspond to the two views presented by Chazal regarding whether or not Nezirut is something positive. On one hand, the Torah refers to him as holy (6:5). On the other hand, he is required to offer a Korban Chatat, a sin-offering, upon the completion of his term of Nezirut.

Why should a Nazir be viewed as a sinner? Did he not abstain from drinking wine, cutting his hair, and becoming Tamei, as the Torah requires? Why, then, must he bring a Korban which is reserved for one who has sinned? One view in Chazal and the Rishonim states that he is guilty of descending from the high level he had reached. If he was able to rise to such a level where he separated himself from some of the pleasures of this world, he should have remained on that level. The Gemara (Ta’anit 11a) mentions a second opinion. It quotes the Pasuk which writes concerning a Nazir (BeMidbar 6:11), “VeChiper Alav MeiAsher Chata Al HaNafesh,” “He shall offer atonement for having sinned concerning the soul.” Concerning which soul has this Nazir sinned? The Pasuk is understood as referring to the fact that he has caused himself distress by refraining from wine. This approach of Chazal argues that the act of becoming a Nazir is itself sinful. Hashem has provided us with many pleasures in this world, one of which is wine. What gave this man the right to deprive himself of the enjoyment of Hashem's creations? According to the Gemara, therefore, his sin is simply that he deprived himself of wine. Chazal, however, teach us that there are times when it is proper for a person to take upon himself the vow of Nezirut. For example, in response to the question of why the section dealing with Nezirut immediately follows that of the Sotah, Chazal (Mesechet Sotah 2a) answer, “Lomar Lach SheKol HaRo’eh Sotah BeKilkulah Yazir Atzmo Min HaYayin,” “To tell you that anyone who sees a Sotah in her state of disgrace should take upon himself to abstain from wine.” Wine is a cause of much sin, and anyone who witnesses intensely corrupt behavior should adopt more stringent behavior than what is required of the average person. This way, he can set boundaries or fences for himself to protect the levels of holiness.

As mentioned above, it appears from one perspective based on Tanach and Chazal that the Nazir is a holy man. In general, the Torah views Nezirut as something positive as well. Hashem even praises Nezirut when He says (Amos 2:11), “VaAkim MiBeneichem LiNevi’im UMiBachureichem LiNezirim,” “I established some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nezirim.” This would indicate that Nezirut is very close to the level of prophecy which is associated with Ru’ach HaKodesh. It is unclear 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 a prophet.

I suggest that these two perspectives on the Nazir are not contradictory. Perhaps the reason for this dichotomy is because there are two types 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 read in this week's Haftarah about the birth of Shimshon HaGibor. He became a Nazir after an angel informed his mother that she would give birth to a son who would become a Nazir upon birth. From that point on, she refrained from partaking of anything that was forbidden to the Nazir such as wine. Shimshon's Nezirut gave him the strength to battle the Pelishtim and save the Jewish nation. His Nezirut was the fulfillment of a great Mitzvah. Furthermore, there is a view in Chazal that the prophet Shmuel was a Nazir in fulfillment of his mother's prayers. Certainly Chanah was not praying for a son who was going to be a sinner. Why would his mother wish for him to become a Nazir? Chanah came to pray for a son on the same day that Eli HaKohein became the leader of Klal Yisrael. Eli became the leader following the death of Shimshon. Chanah wanted to have a son that would continue in the path of Shimshon, the Nazir who battled the Pelishtim.

Not every Nazir can be considered Kadosh and not every Nazir can be viewed as a sinner. The Gemara cites incidents of those who would take this vow out of anger, as a means of getting back at someone who did something to them - according to all views, this is not to be viewed positively. On the other hand, many take this vow upon themselves in an effort to defeat their Yeitzer HaRa - this is certainly positive. Shimon HaTzaddik was known to have held that a Nazir is a sinner. However, the Gemara (Nazir 4b) relates that he met a young man who had just completed his Nezirut and arrived in the Beit HaMikdash with his Korbanot. The Torah mandates that on the day a Nazir completes his Nezirut, he must cut his hair. Upon seeing this young man, Shimon HaTzaddik said to him, “You have such beautiful hair, why are you cutting it?” The young man answered, “I saw my reflection in the water and noticed how beautiful my hair looked. I was afraid that it would make me too proud. To avoid this, I have decided to cut my hair.” The Gemara records that Shimon HaTzaddik kissed the young man and said, “You clearly took upon you   r Nezirut as a method to defeat the Yeitzer Hara; such Nezirut is praiseworthy.”

According to all opinions, a person who drinks too much wine should do his utmost to reduce his wine intake. These two opinions regarding how to view a Nazir may be both correct, depending on whom we are speaking of - some Nezirim are sinners, while others are holy people.

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