Parashat Naso deals with the Dinim of a Nazir. The Torah’s attitude towards a Nazir is seemingly contradictory. On the one hand, the Torah calls Nazirim holy, as the Passuk states,“Kol Yemei Nizro Kodesh Hu LaHashem,” “All the days of his Nezirut, he is holy to Hashem” (BeMidbar 6:8). Later, the Torah commands a Nazir to bring a Korban Chatat, a sin offering, at the conclusion of the period of his Nezirut, because as many Meforshim explain, the Nazir sins by depriving himself of wine, a material pleasure given to mankind by Hashem, thereby implying that Nezirut itself is a sin.
The Gemara (Taanit 11a) discusses the “sin” a Nazir performs when saying, “Rabi Eliezer HaKapar BeRabi Omeir: …VeChi BeEizah Nefesh Cheit Zeh? Ela SheTziyeir Atzmo Min HaYayin. VeHalo Devarim Kal VeChomer? UMah Zeh SheLo Tziyeir Atzmo Ela Min HaYayin Nikra Chotei, HaMetzaeir Atzmo MeKol Devar VeDevar Al Achat Kamah VeKamah! Rabi Elazar Omeir: Nikra Kadosh, SheNeemar: ‘Kadosh YiHiyeh’…UMah Zeh SheLo Tzayeir Atzmo Ela MiDevar Achad Nikra Kadosh, HaMitzaeir Atzmo MeKol Dvar, Achat Kamah VeKamah!” “Rabi Elazar HaKapar, the son of Rabi, says: Against which person does the Torah say the Nazir sinned? Rather, it is because he caused himself suffering by abstaining from wine. And we can deduce a Kal VaChomer, that if he who abstained only from wine is called a sinner, one who abstains from everything [all Earthly pleasures] all the more so! Rabi Elazar says, he [a Nazir] is called holy, as it says, ‘He shall be holy.’ If he, who abstained from only one [pleasure] is called holy, one who abstains from all of them, all the more so!” This Gemara also raises a contradiction about a Nazir’s status.
Not only is this contradiction spoken about in the Gemara, it is also found in Rambam’s “Moreh Nevuchim” (3:48), where he writes, “One who is cautious of [wine] is called ‘holy,’ and is on the same level of Kedushah as the Kohein Gadol.” Yet, in Hilchot Deot (3:1) he writes, “Perhaps a person will say: Since jealousy, desire, honor and the like are bad, and remove a person from the world, I will abstain from them completely to the extreme, so that he will not eat meat nor drink wine. This is also a bad path, and it is prohibited to follow. One who walks in this path is called a sinner.” This raises a major dilemma. What is the proper way to serve Hashem: indulgence or abstinence?
The Netziv in his commentary to the Torah writes that it is appropriate to abstain from physical pleasure in order to achieve the spiritual pleasure of being close to Hashem. However, the manner in which a Nazir contracts spiritual defilement, becoming Tamei from a sudden death in his presence, which occurs against his will, signifies that he is not worthy of such closure, because Hashem is causing him to lose his high status. The result is that the Nazir has caused himself suffering by abstaining from wine for naught.
The Netziv explains that there is positive value to Nezirut as a means of achieving great closeness to Hashem, but only if one is on the appropriate level to accept Nezirut.
Not everyone is on a high enough level to accept Nezirut upon himself. If one’s Nezirut is cut short by means outside of his control, this implies that he is not worthy of such closeness with Hashem, and therefore his status is removed from him. This Nazir is titled a sinner and must bring a Korban. The Netziv compares this to the 250 followers who offered the Ketoret with Korach. They also sought closeness with Hashem that was not appropriate for them. The Pasuk refers to them as “HaChataim HaEileh,” “These sinners” (BeMidbar 17:3). Here too we see the term sinner used to refer to those who seek an undeserved closeness with Hashem, and the result this time is Mitah BeYedei Shamayim, the divine death penalty. This idea is also apparent by the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. They too sought undeserved proximity to Hashem through an additional Korban and faced the same fate as the followers of Korach, being burnt to death in a heavenly flame.
Thus, as a general approach to serving Hashem, Nezirut is not appropriate. The ideal for the average person is that he should reach his maximum potential and follow the path Hashem has set for him, not try to take matters into his own hands. There are some special individuals who are on a lofty level, however, for whom Nezirut is appropriate and thereby referred to as holiness, as the Navi Amos states, “VaAkim MiBeneichem LeNeviim UMeiBachureichem LiNezirim,” “I [Hashem] established some of your sons as prophets and some of your young men as Nazirim” (Amos 2:11). Nezirut is something preordained by Hashem, not a decision one can take upon himself if he is not worthy.
There is a famous story of a Chasidish Rebbe, Reb Zusha, that illustrates the importance of maximizing one’s potential. Reb Zusha was on his deathbed, surrounded by his students, and was crying inconsolably. His students, shocked by his outburst, asked their Rebbe what caused his crying. They reasoned that a Gadol such as he, who emulated the kindness of Avraham Avinu and spread Torah like Moshe Rebbeinu surely has nothing to fear in Olam HaBa (the world to come). Reb Zusha replied that when he passes and comes before Hashem for judgment, HaKadosh Baruch Hu will not ask him why he wasn’t as wise as Moshe, or why he wasn’t as kind as Avraham. Rather, Hashem will ask him why he wasn’t as wise as Zusha could have been, and as kind as Zusha could have been. Hashem will want to know why Zusha did not reach his full potential, and for this, he has no answer.
Sometimes, people are so worried about being as great as others and as honored as others that they lose themselves in the process. Hashem does not want us to be anyone aside from ourselves and only wants us to reach our full potential. This is a key lesson we can learn from Nezirut. It is sinful to try and gain status undeserved to a person, and only a select few can welcome the Holiness that comes with true Nezirut. May we all be Zocheh (merit) to reach our full potential and welcome the Mashiach, BeMeheirah BeYameinu.