Posted on June 6, 2011
by Jordan Bailey Brandt, Seaboard USY 2011-12 Regional President and 2011 Religion/Education International General Board
This shabbat, we read Parshat Naso, the longest parasha in the Torah. It covers various topics including a second census of the Israelites, the laws regarding a female adulterer, the laws of the nazir, and the identical sacrifices given by each tribe in honor of the mishkan. Even though this parasha covers a lot of topics and there are tons of commentaries and midrashim on it, I had a lot of trouble deciding on a topic … but then it hit me.
In Naso, we read, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If anyone, man or woman explicitly utters a nazarite’s vow, to set himself apart for the Lord’” (Bamidbar 6:1-2). The nazir may not drink wine even eat anything from grapes, is not allowed to cut his/her hair, may not be near a dead person, and must give special sacrifices. I have taken multiple classes that have discussed the topic of the nazir and still and not sure if I fully understand the concept because I have the same reoccurring question. How is the nazir so incredibly holy when he completely separates himself from the community?
I am currently taking a class where we are discussing modern Jewish theologians like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, Neil Gillman, and Arnie Eisen who all stress the importance and holiness of community. Obviously, these are modern theologians and we no longer have nazirim, but the importance of community can’t possibly have changed very much.
As I was doing some research trying to find an answer to a question that seemed impossible to answer, I found some hints in the commentary of the Etz Hayim. “Is he or she a saint, aspersing voluntarily to higher levels of holiness, or a person with trouble controlling his or her impulses, who therefore has to impose limits on beyond what normal people do?…[Rambam], uncomfortable with the nazirite’s enthusiasm, urged the path of modernation in food, drink, and other matters.” While this isn’t the most straight forward answer, it did satisfy me for now. I completely understand Rambam’s perspective, which also ties in well with Conservative Judaism today.
We struggle between Torah/halachah and the modern world. Just like Rambam suggests, it is about moderation and striking a balance between the two. As for whether the nazir is truly holy, that is something you will have to decide for yourself.