In Parashat Naso, the Torah presents both the Mitzvot of Sotah and Nazir. Rashi (Bamidbar 6:2 s.v. Ki Yafli) cites the Gemara (Sotah 2a), which explains the juxtaposition of these two concepts as follows: “anyone who sees a Sotah in her disgrace as she undergoes the rite of the bitter water should renounce wine, as wine is one of the causes of sexual transgression, as it loosens inhibitions.” Seemingly, one who witnesses the Sotah procedure is expected to abstain from wine. Why is Nezirut the appropriate response to such an exposure?
The Torah (BeMidbar 6:2) states, ”Dabeir El Bnei Yisrael Ve’Amarta Aleihem Ish O Ishah Ki Yafli Lindor Neder Nazir Lehazir LaHashem“, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: A man or woman who specify a Nazirite vow to become a Nazirite to HaShem“ . The Kli Yakar (6:2) explains the words ‘Ki Yafli’ in three ways. The first explanation is that ‘Yafli’ is a term that refers to Havdalah, or separation. He explains that when one ingests wine, they become unable to differentiate between Kodesh and Chol. He bases this on the juxtaposition of two Pesukim in the 10th Perek of Sefer VaYikra. VaYikra 10:9 states,”Yayin VeSheichar Al Teisht Atah UVanecha Itach BeVo’achem El Ohel Mo’ed V’Lo Tamutu”, “Do not drink neither wine nor liquor, you or your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, so that you shall not die”, and then the next Pasuk states,” ULaHavdil Bein HaKodesh UVein HaChol Uvein HaTamei UVein HaTahor”, “And to differentiate between holy and profane, and between impure and pure”. Thus, drinking is associated with a lack of differentiation between the holy and profane.
The second explanation of the Kli Yakar is that ‘Yafli’ is a term of self-denial from worldly pleasures, of which wine is a primary example. He cites a Pasuk in Sefer Shoftim (13:18) where Mano’ach, Shimshon’s father, asks the angel who announced Shimshon’s birth to tell him his name: “VaYomer Lo Malach Hashem Lamah Zeh Tishal Lishmi VeHu Feli”, “And the angel of G-d said to him, ‘Why should you inquire after my name? And it is Feli”. The Kli Yakar explains that the reason for an angel’s name is based on their mission (e.g. Refael, named after Refu’ah, meaning healing, is the angel of healing). Since the angel who talked to Manoach said his name was Feli, his mission was to announce that Manoach’s child would be a Nazir, someone who would be distinct (‘Muflah’ in Hebrew) and separated from all of the materialism of the world.
The third explanation is that ‘Yafli’ refers to separation from others. The Kli Yakar cites the Gemara (Nedarim 22a) which compares one who took a Neder to a person who constructed a Bamah (a private altar), and brought Korbanot on it. Pairing that with the another statement of Chazal (Nedarim 10a), that “anyone who becomes a Nazir is called a sinner”, the Kli Yakar explains that the Pasuk uses the word ‘Yafli’ to say that a Nazir sins because he excludes himself from the community and takes upon himself stringencies regarding which everyone else is lenient. That is why his Neder is comparable to a Bamah; he excludes himself from bringing Korbanot with the community and instead erects his own private altar.
What is the correlation between these three explanations of the Kli Yakar? Why did he have to offer three different explanations to one Pasuk? Permit me to answer this question with a thought of my own. When a person drinks, his thoughts and logic are dulled, leading to faulty judgment. To a dedicated Jew, the deterioration of one’s mental psyche is as atrocious as losing one’s sight or limbs. The Kli Yakar understands the ingestion of wine as a Halachic ‘slippery slope’, on which the institution of Nezirut acts as an emergency brake. When we drink, we lose our ability to be Mavdil Bein Kodesh L’Chol, and our priorities and senses become unbalanced to the point where we completely lack a sense of distinction between the physical and spiritual. We start continuously gorging ourselves on worldly pleasures, and forget about everything else, to the point that we remove ourselves from our community, and become slaves to our desires. Therefore, when one recognizes that they lack this integral distinction, the Torah states that he or she should be Nodeir L’Hazir L’Hashem-- they should set themselves aside for Hashem. The Kli Yakar proposes these three specific explanations, perhaps, to say that the Nazir process is for the purpose of reforming one’s ways. May we all, with G-d’s help, conquer our desires and reform our mindset to one of pure spirituality.