“Nazir? Rabbi Malinowitz, that was in last week’s sedrah; this week is Parshas Beha’aloscha! Beha’aloscha is so difficult, with so many strange happenings —the inverted ‘nuhns,’ Chazal hinting at unspecified ‘puraniyos’ (tragedies), the complaints about something but we’re not quite sure what; and then the demand for meat; Moshe Rabbeinu very uncharacteristically seeming to lose his cool… We thought that you would write an enlightening column explaining what all this is about. And you’re recycling an old derashah about Nazir? Perhaps you didn’t know that there was not going to be a paper last week, and you don’t want to let a perfectly fine column go to waste?”
I trust that you have now gotten all that angst out of your system. Yes, we are iy”H going to explain the phenomenon of a Nazir; but hopefully, through that, gain insight into the events of this week’s sedrah as well. This will require some patience.
A famous statement of Chazal states: “Rebbe says, why does the Torah place the parshah of nazir next to the parshah of the sotah (the unfaithful wife)? This is to teach us, that one who sees the sotah in her degradation (i.e., the way she is treated by the kohein when she is brought to the Beis Hamikdash under suspicion of unfaithfulness) should take a vow of nezirus, which involves abstaining from wine [which can easily lead to immoral acts].” The famous question is, on the contrary! If one sees the degradation of the sotah, if one sees what following one’s passions and desires can lead to, one should not have to do something as drastic as becoming a nazir! Why does Rebbe state that davka that person should take the abstinence vow of the nazir? That person should davka be the one who no need to be a nazir!” Among the many answers to this question is that witnessing that which people are capable of doing is immensely harmful to one’s own values system, even if one sees the punishment! The unthinkable has become thinkable, the inconceivable quite conceivable. Another answer proposes that if hashgachah has led a person to witness such this punishment, its message must be relevant to this observer, and that he has some flaw that requires tikkun before it becomes a full-blown breakdown. A third approach is the idea that when a person feels an inspiration, an insight, or an enthusiasm, he should immediately do something with it! Something concrete, actually actualizing the inspiration, so that it not dissipate and remain good intentions only. Ramban states this idea in his sefer Emunah U’Bitachon —that inspiration only lasts if it is actualized in an action.
These are all very important and fundamental ideas. Yet we will suggest another explanation.
The parshah of Nazir begins with an unusual word: ‘When a man or woman ‘yafli’ to make a vow of nezirus…” What does ‘yafli’ mean? Rashi suggests that it means ‘to express.’ The Ibn Ezra states that it comes from the root of the word ‘pelleh,’ —a wonder— for the nazir is doing a wondrous thing by taking this vow of nezirus, because the average person generally follows his desires and cravings.
However, this brings forth another question: is it really so wondrous to abstain from wine for a limited period of time (whatever period he specified in the vow)? If the nazir would have to refrain from all fruits and delicacies, this would indeed be a wonder, but in fact —the nazir abstains only from wine! A nazir is ‘kadosh,’ and must not become ritually impure through contact with a corpse. The passuk states, “for the crown of his G-d is upon his head.’ We speak of ‘the crown of Hashem,’ the Ba’al Haturim speaks of the shechinah finding a ‘home’ in his person… all for a cup of wine? Further, when the nazir completes his term of nezirus he brings a set of korbanos, among these is a sin-offering (a chattas). Why does he require a sin-offering, what is his sin? Ramban explains that this is because he is re-entering the world of desire and urges rather than remain a nazir. That is why he needs a kapparah, says Ramban. This certainly requires explanation and elaboration.
A person’s life in this world consists of a shutfus —a partnership— an association between the body and the soul. The body has its needs and desires, as does the soul. When Hashem created man, He implanted within him the ability for the two to work together for the benefit of both, and also gave man the ability for his seichel to rule over his emotions and impulses, in a way that the abovementioned needs will not contradict each other, but will work in tandem —the body will receive its needs, and will be alive, well and healthy to be the ‘home’ of the soul in this world, thus serving the soul. When a person sins, when a person allows the body’s desires to overcome the seichel, in a certain sense the body is seeking to uproot this mutually beneficial partnership, and ‘declares independence,’ acting in a manner that is injurious to the soul, for it, the physical, now sees itself as an independent entity, no longer serving the spiritual. Every sin committed, every pandering to the body’s declaration of independence furthers this imbalance.
The Sefer Hachinuch, in his elaborate ‘explanation’ of the korbanos, explains that their purpose is to show a person that the body without the soul (e.g., an animal) has no inherent purpose to its existence, and thus the animal is slaughtered and burnt. This serves as a kapparah for the person’s sin, because this realization will enable him to withstand temptation the ‘next time around.’(See Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 95). Thus, the korban serves to right the imbalance in the partnership created by sin, and reaffirms the body’s role in creation, which is not to be an independent entity, but to serve as the repository of the soul.
The nazir thus returns to ‘normal’ life, a life where all too often the body goes beyond its true mandate. He goes back fortified by —korbanos! Fortified by the new balance struck through his nezirus, which righted the temporary imbalance caused by ‘cheit’, and reiterated to the nazir that the body is not an independent entity pursuing its own goals, but is but a handmaiden of the soul.
To be continued…