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Parshat Naso and Shavout

By Rabbi Dr. Richard Ehrlich

After the long and relaxing respite of Shavout, our thoughts are now turned to the summer months which loom ahead. This first week we will begin with the reading of Parshas Naso, which I believe contains within it a very important message. 

Chapter 6 deals with a man who takes upon himself the restrictions of a Nazir. A Nazir is someone who abstains from wine, and by that, from many of the worldly pleasures associated with wine. He must also be careful not to defile himself, and in general, must lead a more exemplary life as the Torah calls him Holy, (Verse 8 “All the days of his Nezirut he is Holy to G-d”).

There is, however, a controversy that revolves around Verse 14. The Torah says that when the Nazir completes his Nazirut period he must bring an offering of a Chatat, a sin offering. The Torah doesn’t elaborate why this sin offering is being brought. The Talmud (Taanis 11A) relates an argument between Rabbi Elazar Hakappir ben Reby and Rabbi Elazar concerning the status of a Nazir and the desirability of becoming a Nazir. Rabbi Elazar Hakappir ben Reby says one who consecrates himself to become a Nazir is a sinner, as the Torah clearly indicates that a sin offering must be brought. Rabbi Elazar argues and says the Nazir is to be praised, as the Torah calls him “Holy” and the sacrifice is only to be brought by someone who defiled himself and became tamay-impure. The Talmud doesn’t resolve this argument and therefore it is not surprising to find this argument among the Rishonim. The Rambam (Hilchot Dayos Chapter 3 Halacha 1) talks about how Jews sometimes are excessive and accept upon themselves too much, even more than our Torah already demands of them. The Rambam says this is wrong and prohibited, and one who does so is a sinner. Proof of this, he says, is derived from the Nazir who the Torah calls a sinner. Obviously, the Rambam decides in favor of Rabbi Elazar Hakappir ben Reby. The Ramban (Nachmanides) on the other hand, takes a completely different and opposite approach. He explains that the sin of the Nazir is simply because he stopped being one. After working so hard and achieving this level of kiddush – sanctity, this exalted state of closeness to Hashem, the Nazir defiles himself and plunges back to the lower and mundane state of everyday life. He who rose to touch the stars now falls down to earth, a mere mortal. The act of leaving this state of Nazirut is itself a sin, and for this he must bring a chatat. 

I think the Ramban’s explanation has tremendous relevancy for us at this time. We just concluded a seven week period of counting in which we, as a people, were told to prepare ourselves for the receiving of the Torah. With each passing day we elevated ourselves and brought ourselves closer to the acceptance of the Torah. All this self improvement culminated with the glorious event when we stood and proclaimed our willingness to accept Hashem’s Torah. At that moment we all must have felt uplifted and inspired. However, the tendency of most people, after working and striving to reach a goal, is to slack off and let down. Perhaps this is why Parshat Naso is read specifically now. The message of the Ramban’s explanation is timely and relevant. Now that we have achieved a certain level of Kiddusha/holiness and improvement let us not simply forsake our achievements. 

As we approach the summer there is a natural tendency to let our guard down and be lax in our observances. The Nazir, as the Ramban explains, reminds us of our obligations and gently prompts us to the tasks at hand. With this message of the Nazir, let us hope that our goals will be realized and our summer be filled with Mitzvot and Torah growth. Chag Samayach.

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