Skip to content

Parashat Naso 5779 — 06/15/2019

Parashat Naso 5779 — 06/15/2019

L’ilui nishmat Emo Baer z’l

Dear readers,

As best I can tell, this is my 500th weekly drash since I began writing them weekly (some say, “weakly”) about 10 years ago. It’s a milestone, but a milestone on the way, not the marker of a goal, nor even any significant breakthrough. Many have done more and many have gone farther.

I would like to take the opportunity to reiterate something I said at the very beginning. The point of this column is not to be my personal soapbox. It’s rather to be a forum for a variety of views and approaches. Our Sages say that everyone who stood at Mt. Sinai heard the Torah differently. Knowledge is different in different states of consciousness, and these differences should be appreciated. But we can’t all appreciate your unique point of view unless you express it.

So please, contribute! You don’t have to write every week. Even an occasional piece when something strikes your fancy is great. If you want to discuss a particular point, or would like some help finding original sources, feel free to contact me. If you’d like to submit something anonymously, just let us know and we’ll keep your identity from prying eyes.

“The mind can’t make a mood on an abstract basis.” There is no better way to clarify your thoughts and ideas than by writing them down, and reading them over to see where they make sense, and where the argument might need to be tightened up. Write and grow. Why should Steve Sufian and I have all the fun?!


Bamidbar 4:21-7:89

The Nazirite is one who takes a vow to abstain from wine and from any product of the grapevine, to avoid contact with the dead, and to refrain from cutting his hair (even if she has split ends) for the period of the vow. An unspecified vow of Naziriteship is 30 days. One can specify any period longer than that, and one can specify any number of consecutive periods of Naziriteship of any length of 30 days or more. At the end of one’s period of Naziriteship one must bring a set of offerings, including a sin offering. (Now that there is no Temple, there is no possibility of bringing these offerings, so there is no way to end one’s period of Naziriteship. If one were to take a vow of Naziriteship, even for 30 days, they would effectively be swearing off wine, raisins, grapes, grape juice, contact with the dead and haircuts for the rest of their life. So don’t try this at home!)

The restrictions on the Nazirite to refrain from contact with the dead (even one’s close relatives) and to refrain from wine are very similar to the restrictions on the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). The Kohen Gadol must refrain from any contact with the dead, and cannot drink wine or any other intoxicant while he is serving in the Temple, which is most (but not all) of the time. The Kohen Gadol gets his hair trimmed every week. The upshot of this is that the holiness of the Nazir is compared to the holiness of the Kohen Gadol! In fact, this is the purpose of the Nazirite vow – for a person to withdraw for a time and concentrate on their personal spiritual development. Why, then, does one have to bring a sin offering when the period of Naziriteship is concluded?

Here is some of what R. Goldin has to say on the issue:

The Nazir is motivated by a desire to separate [RAR: the word Nazir can be derived from a root meaning to separate], to move away from the surrounding society. His religious search is inherently isolating.

In stark contrast to those who consider the Nazir “sinful” for having restricted himself from that which is normally allowed, the Ramban adopts the position that nezirut is a totally laudatory state.
The sin offering brought by the Nazir at the end of his period of abstinence, the Ramban explains, is far from a negative comment on the state of nezirut. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite – a reflection of this state’s loftiness:
“This individual sins to his soul on the day of the completion of his period of nezirut, for he now is a Nazir in his sanctity and in the service of Gd, and it would have been appropriate for him to separate forever and remain all his days a Nazir and sanctified to his Gd…. And behold he now requires atonement upon his return to the defilement of earthly temptations.” (Ramban to Bamidbar 6:14)

Numerous other commentaries offer their own solutions to the apparent contradiction between the Torah’s identification of the Nazir as both “sanctified” and “sinful.”
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rema), for example, views the experience of nezirut as a spiritually curative process, in line with the Rambam’s general prescription for positive behavior modification.
The Rambam maintains that in order to arrive at a healthy behavioral middle road, there are times when individuals must temporarily go to extremes. Someone who has a tendency towards haughtiness and pride, for example, should debase himself for a period of time. Through this exercise, all haughtiness will be driven from his system and he will be able to return to the desired middle road.
In this vein, says the Rema, the Torah prescribes nezirut for someone who recognizes in himself the tendency to succumb to earthly pleasures. By temporarily adopting the extreme path of abstinence, this individual will train himself to eventually attain proper life balance.
The Torah’s description of the Nazir as sanctified, the Rema explains, refers to his condition after the period of nezirut is concluded. Through the vows of nezirut, the Nazir enters a temporary period of extremes (and all extremes are inherently “sinful”) in order to ultimately reach a “sanctified” equilibrium.

Yet other commentaries maintain that the mindset of the Nazir is the ultimate determinant of the value of his vow.
The Ohr Hachaim, for example, views the text itself as distinguishing between two different types of nezirut:
1. Nazir: Someone who accepts nezirut out of a personal predilection for an ascetic lifestyle.
2. Nazir La’Hashem (to Gd): Someone who accepts nezirut for the appropriate purpose of drawing near to Gd.
In a similar vein, The Chatam Sofer differentiates between the Nazir who, mistakenly, views asceticism as a goal unto itself and the Nazir who, appropriately, views nezirut as a means to an end.

I think the point here is that Judaism is a religion where the community takes on a greater value than in other cultures. We think in terms of the Messianic Age when all of the community of Israel will be redeemed, rather than in terms of some kind of personal salvation. Nonetheless, we are charged with perfecting ourselves individually, and those who sin are in some cases sent out from society to endure a period of partial or total isolation (e.g. the metzora who must “dwell outside the camp”). Clearly, as Rambam indicates, isolation/separation/silence has a profoundly curative effect.

The most profound kind of isolation we can achieve is when we transcend our own individuality and experience the unbounded, universal nature of our inner Self. Since our universal nature is transcendental to the entire field of activity, when we experience this nature, we are completely isolated from all the activity that swirls around us. When, through repeated experience, our universal nature becomes the dominant aspect of our personality, we are detached from all activity, all the while our individual personality is engaged in action. This, in my opinion, is a great level of kedusha, holiness, from the root kadosh meaning “separate.” Our tradition gives us ample opportunity for regular periods of turning within, away from the material world – Shabbat being the most prominent example. But for those who feel they need an extra boost, there is Naziriteship, a retreat as it were, for an extended period of inwardness. The Nazir comes out refreshed, ready to engage with the world from his detached perch in the infinite.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Naso

In this parshah, Gd gives Aaron and his sons, through Moses, the Priestly Blessing, three blessings that lift us up:

Numbers 6:24-26:
“May HaShem Bless you and Safeguard you”
“May HaShem Illuminate His Countenance for you and be Gracious to you.
May HaShem Lift His Countenance to you and Establish Peace for you.” (Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash)

“Bless”, “safeguard”, “Illuminate His countenance for you”, “Be Gracious to you”, “Lift His countenance to you”, “Establish Peace for you”—all these combine to bestow Gd’s Name on us, the result of which is that Gd blesses us.
What does it mean to have Gd’s Name (not “Names”) bestowed on us?

It means that the complexities of life are simplified, the many ways we experience Gd are united into One and our life becomes one with Gd, not separate from Gd: “All Your names are one” we know from the Aleinu “It is our duty” prayer we recite daily.

What additional lifting up occurs when Gd blesses us?

This means that within the Unity, the Oneness, the diversity still exists: we are One with Gd and yet also continue to play our roles as individuals, roles in which we continue to behave devotedly to Gd, to “Love Gd with all our heart, and soul and all our might” and to love Gd’s expression: Nature and people, to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  Gd, from His Point of View, blesses us, raises our individualities higher and higher so that there is no distance between Gd playing the role of Gd and Gd playing the role of Creation and us.

Today and every day may we experience deeper and deeper openness to the Priestly Blessings, to Gd’s Name, to Gd’s Blessings and to living these and sharing these will all and all.

Love and Baruch HaShem