Last week, we saw that a person’s life in this world is essentially a shutfus —a partnership— between the body and the soul. The body has its needs and desires, as does the soul. Hashem implanted within man the ability for the two to work together for the benefit of both, and gave man the ability for his seichel (intellect) to rule over his emotions and impulses in a way that the respective needs of both will not contradict each other, but on the contrary, will work together for the benefit of both. The body will receive what it needs to stay alive, well, and functioning at peak capacity, and will serve as the ‘home’ of the soul. When a person sins, the body is seeking to uproot this mutually beneficial partnership and act in a manner injurious to the soul, seeing itself as an independent entity; no longer necessarily serving the soul by enabling its spiritual needs. Every sin committed, every pandering to the body’s desires, furthers an imbalance between these two forces.
A korban, as explained by Sefer Hachinuch, shows a person that a body without a soul (an animal) has no inherent purpose in existence; thus, the animal is slaughtered and burnt. This serves as a kapparah, because this realization enables the person to withstand temptation in the future. Thus, the korban serves to right the imbalance in the partnership created by sin, and reaffirms that the body is but the repository of the soul, existing but to serve it.
This is how the Malbim explains the events immediately following the great flood, the mabul. Noach brings korbanos, and we find that Hashem “…smelled the appeasing fragrance and said, Never again will I curse the earth…” What happened? How and why did these korbanos elicit such a response? The Malbim there (Bereishis 8:21) explains that the generation of the mabul had skewed the partnership in such a devastating way to the extent that it was totally dissolved, thus destroying the world. The korbanos brought upon exiting the ark renewed that partnership, as per the Sefer Hachinuch cited above. Now, the world could be rebuilt upon a proper foundation, once again recognizing the primacy of the soul. By accepting the korban, Hashem was saying that He accepts that humanity would henceforth always maintain the basic idea, on some level, that the body exists to serve the soul —not to further its own interests.
Ironically, the Nazir, with his necessity to withdraw from wine, is actually admitting that his inner partnership is out of balance. Wine is something that Hashem created to gladden the soul —when it is used properly and carefully. Wine is poured onto the Altar in the Beis Hamikdash, and only then is song recited by the Levi’im. As such, it is sad that in order to right an imbalance, this person finds it necessary to abstain from wine totally, giving the soul more of a foothold over the person’s personality and urges. Having righted the imbalance, the partnership can then be resumed in optimal fashion, without resorting to any extremes. He thus brings a korban to reinforce the lesson learnt and to re-enter the ‘real’ world. Indeed, the passuk expresses this beautifully: (Bamidbar 6:20) “And after all this (the korbanos brought), the Nazir may drink wine.” This also wonderfully explains why the Nazir, worthy of the crown of the Shechinah, is also seen as a sinner, in need of the korbanos: for something is wrong when one needs to be a Nazir.
What is ‘wondrous’ about a Nazir (ki ‘yafli’) is not his ability to refrain for wine and grape products for a few days; rather, it is his sensitivity to the perfect body-soul balance, and his willingness to take steps to right any imbalance, even refraining from what is ostensibly permissible. Yes, he is a ‘sinner’ for requiring these measures; yet astonishingly holy for realizing it and boldly taking these steps.
It is fascinating that the Rema (Orach Chaim 6), in his explanation of the berachah that we recite after tending to our necessary bodily functions, explains the phrase “rofei kol bassar u’mafli la’asos” as referring to the amazing way that Hakadosh Baruch Hu fused two opposites —body and soul— and made then interdependent on each other (mafli la’asos) in keeping the person physically healthy (rofeh kol bassar). Once again, we see this partnership referred to as ‘wondrous’ —mafli—thus, the Nazir too is introduced to us as “ki yafli.”
We can now more readily understand why davka the sotah calls for a response in the form of nezirus more than any other sin. For how does the sotah die? The kohein mixes water that was made holy with dirt from the makom hamikdash, the Name of Hashem is written on a piece of parchment and is erased into the water, and then she drinks the water. How does this happen? How does holy water cause death and destruction? Apparently, when this spiritualized water enters her body —a body that has ceased to be an abode for spirituality, and remains only a body— when such a body imbibes the spirituality embedded in the water, it simply breaks down under the conflict of these disparate forces.
Thus, “One who sees the sotah in her degradation should take a vow of nezirus,” for the observer has been treated to a powerful lesson and has received a compelling and forceful exhortation to guard that delicate balance.
We do not take on nezirus in our times. Yet we certainly should not look at the nazir as an otherworldly figure of no relevance to us. What dominates our lives? What motivates our lives? Where do we stand in this balance? Do we indulge in everything once it is labeled Kosher Lemehadrin? How should a Jew strike this balance?
To be continued…