Thoughts on Naso

canstockphoto0885276This week’s Parashat is Naso, Numbers 4:21 – 7:89. The Haftarah is Judges 13:2-25 and the reading from the Besorah is Luke 17:11–25.

The Nazir:

And the LORDspoke to Moses, saying,“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD… (Numbers 6:1-2)

  • Abstain from wine and strong drink, as well as produce or by-products of the vine. (6:3-4)
  • No razor shall touch his head (think Dusty Hill or Billy Gibbons) – He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long. (6:5)
  • During the duration of his vow, he is not to become tameh, טמא, (ritually unclean) due to proximity of dead bodies, even close family members. (6:6-7)
  • “And this is the law for the Nazirite, when the time of his separation has been completed… (it is for a specific time or duration, the rabbis suggest 30-day minimum without a maximum). (6:13)

In an article by Rabbi Menachem Posner posted on Facebook, we are reminded that “the nazir (nazirite) is a person who decided to take upon him or herself a vow to live a strict and holy lifestyle.” In other words, the person who makes the choice to do this mitzva is choosing to separate himself or herself from the commonness of daily life and live consecrated, devoted to the work of HaShem in some capacity or other. This would seem to be a worthy ambition. However, in the Haftarah we read about what appears to be an adjustment to this mitzva as the angel of the LORD speaking to the barren wife of Manoah, the Danite, makes the following proclamation

Behold now, you are barren and have not borne children, but you will conceive and bear a son.Now therefore be careful not to drink wine or strong drink or eat any unclean thing.For behold, you will conceive and bear a son. Let no razor come upon his head, for the boy will be a Nazirite to God from the womb. (Judges 13:3-5)

First, note that there are a few differences in the two accounts. Numbers 6 is the choice of the individual entering the vow, whereas it appears that in Judges 13 both the mother and child are Nazirites by divine choice. Second, unlike Judges 13, Numbers 6 says nothing about the consumption of unclean food. Lastly the avoidance of ritual impurity due to contact with dead bodies is excluded from Judges 13. This may possibly be because the child will grow up to become the cause of many deaths and therefore in proximity of dead bodies. Later, we will read of another child who seemed to have no choice of being a Nazir due to a vow made by his mother Hannah

And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life,and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)

Depending upon one’s theological inclination, the question then arises as to whether man has free will or if everything is determined by HaShem? Judaism would say a resounding yes to both. Humankind was created with the ability to make their own choices within the framework of the order established by the Sovereign Creator. The words of the author of Mishlei states it clearly, “The heart of man plans his course, but ADONAI directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9). Or as stated in the oft quoted passage from Rav Shaul,

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

So again, I ask do we, men and women, have free will to do as we wish, or are our steps completely directed by HaShem? Maybe it is this tension between man’s free will to make choices and ADONAI’s sovereign determination that defines our relationship with Him. It is good that we draw away from the mundane to be separated to the LORD, BUT, then again, the LORD is equally interested in how we deal with the mundane in light of already being a peculiar, set apart people. As Rabbi Posner concludes,

Thus it seems that the nazirite is a holy calling—rising above the mundane by observing a meticulous lifestyle—but it is not right for everybody. For if G-d willed it, He would have created a world with no wine and no temptations. Rather, He wants us to live within His world and uncover the wonder and meaning that He embedded within it.

Shabbat Shalom

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